Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Sunday said that a caste-based census should be conducted at least once, NDTV reported. He said that the entire country will benefit from this exercise.
In July, the Centre had told Parliament that it had decided to not conduct a caste census. The only caste-wise data that the next census would collate would be on Dalits and Adivasis, the same as every census in independent India’s history.
India’s largest caste bloc – the Other Backward Classes – would not be included in this exercise.
Kumar’s statement on Sunday came a day ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a delegation of leaders from 10 political parties to discuss the matter.
The Bihar chief minister will lead the delegation, which will also include the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, according to The New Indian Express. Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the Opposition in Bihar, will also attend the meeting.
Kumar said that a caste-based census was a crucial matter and a long-standing demand of political parties in Bihar.
“It if works out, then nothing could be better than that,” Kumar was quoted as saying by NDTV. “Moreover, it would be not just for Bihar, people in the whole country will benefit from this. We will put forward our views from this angle.”
The Bihar chief minister said the delegation will request Modi to authorise the census, but the final decision would be taken by the Centre, The New Indian Express reported.
Kumar added that it if the task was left to the states, political parties in Bihar were willing to make a decision.
The exclusion of the Other Backward Classes from the next caste census has triggered protests as the group dominates the political scenario in Bihar after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report.
The Mandal Commission had recommended that members of the Other Backward Classes should be granted reservations to 27% of the jobs under the central government.
Earlier this month, Kumar sought an appointment with Modi to push for the exercise, while other prominent leaders from Bihar, including former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Yadav, backed the demand.
The BJP is reportedly the only party in Bihar that does not favour a caste census.
A countrywide exercise to count the population of all caste groups was last conducted in 1931. In 1941, data on the castes was collected but not published, according to The Indian Express.
In Independent India, census reports have published data noting that the population of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not other caste groups. However, several welfare programmes implemented by the central government are based on caste identities. In many parts of the country, caste plays a key role in politics.