Giving a cold shoulder to the growing clamour for a caste-based census from allies as well as the Opposition, the BJP has firmly stated in the Parliament’s recently concluded Monsoon Session that it will not undertake a caste-based survey as a policy matter.
The demands for a caste-based census from NDA allies Janata Dal (United) and Apna Dal, apart from regional parties, have grown following the passage of the Constitution 127A Amendment Bill, 2021, which restores the power of states to identify Other Backward Classes that are socially and economically backward.
The role of caste politics is evident from the fact that the Constitution 127A Amendment Bill, 2021, was the first and only thaw in the thunderous Parliamentary logjam as Opposition parties backed the legislation, with 385 members voting in support and no member opposing it.
Since then, Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar and his predecessor Jitan Ram Manjhi have separately demanded a caste-based census. Weeks ago, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale too had raised the same demand.
Besides, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have also demanded that a caste-based census be conducted as part of the delayed Census 2021.
Amid the debate on the OBC Bill, the BJP faced embarrassment after one of its own MPs, Sanghmitra Maurya from UP’s Badaun, raised the demand for a caste-based census, stating that “even cattle have been counted in several states but not backward classes.”
Clarifying the party’s stand on the matter, BJP MP Ashok Bajpai told FinancialExpress.com that dividing castes further will weaken the society and increase discrimination. He said the BJP will not favour caste-based census for the sake of vote politics, noting that “nation is bigger than vote”.
“After Independence, we have always favoured formation of a society independent of caste to create social harmony. Along with Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia always ran the ‘Samaj Jodo, Jati Todo Andolan’. All of them were of the view that caste discrimination has already weakened our society. But we are unfortunate that political parties are promoting these caste barriers instead of discouraging them,” said Bajpai.
“If caste-based census was to be done, it could have been done after Independence but our leaders believed that national integration could only be achieved by weakening these caste barriers. At a time when separatist forces are acting to divide the nation, it will be difficult to save the country if a larger part of our society is further divided,” he added.
JD(U) backs caste-based census
Ever since the Centre informed the Parliament that the upcoming census will not enumerate caste-wise population other than SCs and STs, Nitish Kumar and his party have made a strong pitch for caste-based census. The Bihar chief minister feels the survey will help better formulation and implementation of schemes meant for welfare of different social groups.
The Bihar assembly had unanimously passed a resolution in February 2019 and February 2020, seeking caste-wise enumeration of population in the next census.
Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, JD(U) MP Ram Nath Thakur advocated caste-based census, saying that it will determine the growth and decline in population of both the backward and forward castes, following which schemes will be prepared for their upliftment and welfare.
“Our stand is clear that a caste-based census will determine how much the population of upper and lower castes have grown or declined and the schemes will only be formulated based on that data. The British used to do the same thing, it happened in 1931 and then in 2011 but it was not published,” he said.
Reacting to the BJP’s stand on the issue, Thakur said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not rejected the demand and the party must know better why they were not in favour of a caste-based survey of the population.
Bajpai, however, objected to the JD(U)’s demand, saying that census already enumerates SCs and STs, and questioned why was there a need to carry out a census based on caste.
“I request them to not raise such issues keeping the broader interest of the nation in mind. When the backwards are already being surveyed then what is the need to further enumerate them on the basis of caste. Do they want to further divide the backwards? The society is already divided into three sections, the forward, the backward and Dalit. How much more will they fragmentise the society, they must think about this,” said Bajpai.
Why caste-based census will be a Herculean task?
Till date, there is no clarity over the population of OBCs in the population. The Mandal Commission had estimated the figure to be 52 per cent, school enrolment data suggests it to be 45 per cent, while the NSSO survey of 2007 puts the number at 41 per cent. This increases the chances of possible errors in the upcoming census as well which could lead to a 2011-like case.
Secondly, several communities such as Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra have been demanding inclusion under the OBC category. It is possible that a caste-based census might result in these and many other communities making a beeline for inclusion in the list.