The Janata Dal (United) said on Sunday that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has all the qualities of being a prime minister but he is not in the race to become one, reported PTI.

The JD(U) is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s biggest ally in the National Democratic Alliance with 16 Lok Sabha members. The saffron party has 301 members.

“The JD(U) is the most trusted member of the National Democratic Alliance and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the leader of the alliance,” party general secretary and spokesperson KC Tyagi told reporters after a council meeting in Patna. “But he [Kumar] certainly is a PM material.”

Earlier this month, senior JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha too had said that Kumar was “PM material”, reported NDTV.

Soon after Tyagi’s statement, the chief minister said that he was not interested in becoming the prime minister.

Tyagi’s statement, however, did not go do well with some members of the JD(U). “Some leaders said he [Kumar] is PM material,” JD(U) national chief Rajiv Ranjan Singh said. “But there is no vacancy. Being PM material and making a claim are different things.”

Singh added: “We are a small party. How can we make such a claim?”

JD(U) to contest UP, Manipur polls

Meanwhile, Tyagi said that his party will contest the Uttar Pradesh and Manipur Assembly polls, scheduled to be held in 2022.

“Our priority will be to form an alliance with the BJP [for the polls],” Tyagi said. “If that does not happen, we will contest independently.”

Caste census

On the party’s demand for a caste census, the JD(U) leader said that a delegation led by the chief minister had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and briefed him about the matter. Janak Ram, a state minister from the BJP, was also part of the delegation.

“The caste census should be done at least once,” the spokesperson said. “It will be easy for the government to identify the poor other than [the] Dalits and help formulate schemes for their welfare.”

On July 20, the Union home ministry had told the Parliament that it has decided to not conduct a caste-based 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.

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 in August, Kumar sought an appointment with Modi to push for the exercise as other prominent leaders from Bihar, including former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, also demanded a caste census.

A countrywide exercise to count the population of all caste groups was last conducted in 1931. In independent India, census reports have published data noting the population of 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.

Earlier this month, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi had said that the state government was free to conduct a caste-based census, but the central government will not accept any such proposal because of its policy decision.

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The Political Fix: The BJP relies heavily on OBC votes. Will it bite the caste census bullet?