Patna: Demand for a caste census continues to haunt the ruling BJP in Bihar. The opposition, including RJD, Congress and Left parties, have put the local BJP leaders in trouble by repeatedly raising the demand as they failed to justify the Central government’s decision not to go for a caste census.
Amid the ongoing speculation over growing differences in Bihar’s ruling NDA, opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, who is also the Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, on Wednesday stressed that a caste census is a must, and his party will not allow any census without caste.
Yadav has termed BJP as an anti-social justice party and recalled that last year Union Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, in a written statement informed the Lok Sabha that the Central government had decided that there would be no census of castes other than the enumeration of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) populations.
Yadav said Rai stated this, although the Bihar Legislative Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution for conducting a caste-based census in February 2019 and in February 2020 and had sent it to the Centre. Notably, the BJP and JD-U had supported the resolution calling for a caste-based census in 2020. However, the BJP does not look too keen now.
Yadav targeted Rai, a senior BJP leader from Bihar, who belongs to a powerful OBC (Other Backward Classes) community, and is seen to be moving along the Centre’s line that is looking to dilute the issue in a state known to be highly caste-ridden.
In recent days, none other than Rai himself started projecting himself as a potential CM candidate of the party in Bihar and likely to replace Kumar. Rai reportedly enjoy the support of an influential section of BJP leaders. Early this month, Rai hosted a lavish feast for a group of media persons at his sprawling farmhouse in the rural Vaishali district. He also tried to replicate RJD chief Lalu Prasad through a photoshoot with cows, a move to keep himself in the news.
According to sources in BJP, Rai, who belongs to RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s caste – Yadav, is being seen as a leader with the potential to make a dent in Lalu’s traditional social support base. “BJP has already made a dent in Lalu’s vote bank. Now, the party has been projecting a Yadav leader in place of Nitish Kumar to get their support,” said a senior BJP leader told NewsClick.
Last month none other than national JD-U president Lalan Singh made it clear the JD-U will not back down on the demand for a caste census. JD-U’s cry favouring a caste-based census is widely seen as a result of the opposition RJD’s aggressive stand against the Centre’s decision not to go in for such an exercise. Both Nitish Kumar’s JD-U and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD have been ‘pro-Mandal’, and a caste-based census is an old demand reiterated by both.
Interestingly, the fresh demand for a caste census by Yadav has come at a time when Bihar chief minister (CM) Nitish Kumar’s party Janata Dal (United) has opposed its ally Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) on several controversial issues, including demand for the removal of loudspeakers from religious places, imposition of uniform civil code, population control law and objected to BJP’s plan to launch the bulldozer drive in the state. All this is being considered a part of Kumar’s strategy to send a message to BJP’s top leadership in Delhi that his party will not follow its plan to polarise society further.
Yadav is also silent on Kumar, who had announced eight months ago to hold an all-party meeting to conduct a caste-based census in Bihar, but he is yet to call the much-awaited meeting.
Earlier, Yadav made it clear that RJD would fight to fulfil the demand for a caste-based census. Yadav’s move is being seen as a political strategy to strengthen his social support base among OBCs, Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and dalits.
Lalu Prasad, who is undergoing medical treatment in Delhi after being granted bail in the fodder scam case, has been consistently demanding a caste-based census. Since 2015, Prasad has also been demanding that data from SECC 2011 be made public to “ensure the empowerment of all those lagging in development.”
In recent months, senior BJP leaders, including Kumar’s cabinet colleagues, have publicly voiced opposition to a caste-based census in the state. The BJP leaders are uncomfortable with the growing demand for a caste-based census in the state. The saffron party seems to fear that an actual count of the OBC population might prod the regional parties to demand more quotas in central government jobs and educational institutions.
The Central government released the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 only in 2015 but still withheld the caste-based data. It said that it was only concerned with the economic data, which would help in the effective implementation of its programmes.
Kumar time and again expressed his support for caste census by saying that a caste-based census exercise should at least be conducted once. It would help to know the number of people belonging to different poor and marginalised castes in other regions. The last caste census was conducted in 1931, before India’s independence from the British.