The Biju Janata Dal on Thursday said that the party wants to conduct a caste census in Odisha but added that it would prefer if the exercise was done by the Union government across the country, The Times of India reported.

BJD Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik said that caste enumeration data is needed to ensure that citizens belonging to backward classes get reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.

The BJD’s remarks on Thursday came a day after Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar made a similar demand from the Centre.

“Without a caste census, reservation is not possible,” Patnaik said, according to The Times of India. “The Odisha government had earlier approached the Centre for a caste census. We once against reiterate our demand.”

India had last conducted an exercise to count the population of all caste groups 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 too. A caste census could help identify castes that are underrepresented in employment and education. It could also help political parties modify their strategies in order to reach out to various caste groups.

The Centre has ruled out conducting a caste census in the country. The government had told the Supreme Court on September 23 that the exercise would be “administratively difficult”.

“We are not asking anything for free,” Pawar had said, according to PTI. “There is no option but to conduct a caste-based census. To provide concessions, the government should know the exact OBC [Other Backward Class] population and hence a caste-based census is needed.”

Pawar also targeted the Bharatiya Janata Party, saying that its ally in Bihar, the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), has also spoken in favour of a caste census but the mindset of the saffron party on the matter is different.

While the Centre has refused to conduct the exercise, Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal had said on Wednesday that his party will attend an all-party meeting convened by Kumar on June 1 to discuss the matter.

On May 16, Kumar had said that his government will soon begin working towards conducting a caste census in the state.

“It will not take long,” Kumar had said. “We will convene an all-party meeting where representatives can give their suggestions. It will be followed by a Cabinet approval. Modalities like how many officials to deploy etc. will also be worked out.”