Former Rajya Sabha MP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader CP Thakur joined the contentious issue of the demand for a caste-based census on Wednesday by terming it “useless” and “a part of pressure politics”.
The BJP, which rules Bihar in alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), is uncomfortable with the growing demand for a caste-based census in the state fearing an actual count of the OBC population might prod the regional parties to demand more quota in central government jobs and educational institutions.
A 10-party delegation from Bihar, including the BJP and Tejashwi Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Monday with their demand.
Senior BJP leaders from the state, including MPs, MLAs and MPs, have opposed the demand publicly. Thakur told the media that the “useless” demand will not benefit anyone and only increase social tension and division.
“Demand of a caste-based census is useless; it should not be conducted. Those who went to meet PM Modi are doing pressure politics,” said Thakur, who belongs to the powerful upper-caste Bhumihar community, which overwhelmingly supports the BJP and its Hindutva agenda.
“The delegation should have met the PM on the issues of development and education in Bihar and discussed how to end poverty and backwardness instead of demanding a caste-based census. It will not be beneficial,” Thakur added.
According to Thakur, the demand for a caste-based census is a “conspiracy to widen the division in society”. He advised Kumar to focus more on development, infrastructure and law and order.
Another senior BJP leader and Union minister of rural development Giriraj Singh too criticised the demand without naming Kumar. “A caste-based census should be in the interest of society, not for political interests,” he said on Wednesday.
After meeting Modi, Kumar had said all the 10 parties spoke in one voice on the “need” for a caste-based census and asserted that statistics about different castes will help in formulating development schemes effectively as many of them have not benefited so far.
Yadav had said that such a census is in the national interest and will be a historic measure to help the poor and the most-deprived sections of society. “If animals and trees can be counted, so can people,” said Yadav, who is the Opposition leader in the Bihar Assembly.
According to political watcher Satyanarayan Madan, the BJP is playing a different game over the demand for a caste-based census. “The party has instructed a few leaders to take a stand in favour of it but has ensured that a majority of its leaders oppose and counter it publicly,” he told Newsclick.
The BJP is trying to “create confusion over the issue for public consumption”, Madan said, adding, “It has made a deliberate attempt to send a message that the party leaders are divided over the issue. The fact is the BJP is dead against a caste-based census as it strongly feels it will harm the party.”
Last month, Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha that the government had decided that there would be no census based on caste other than the enumeration of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population. Rai, a senior BJP leader from Bihar who belongs to a powerful OBC community, has been propagating the BJP’s message and diluting the issue in a caste-polarised state.
After Rai’s statement, Yadav said that his party would carry on with his father and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad’s fight. “We want a caste-based census and will not move an inch from Laluji’s stand on it. The demand for a caste-based census is a fight for the majority population belonging to the backward, marginalised and poor sections of society,” he said.
The RJD has repeatedly demanded that the caste-based data collected in the Socio Economic Caste Census, 2011, be made public by the Centre. However, both the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government and the current dispensation didn’t release this data.
Yadav’s move is being seen as a political strategy to strengthen his social support base among OBCs, extremely backward castes and Dalits.
Subsequently, Kumar also demanded a caste-based census and appealed to the Centre to reconsider its decision. His demand is widely seen as a result of the opposition RJD’s aggressive stand against the Centre’s decision. Both JD(U) and RJD, which are pro-Mandal, have always favoured a caste-based Census.
Kumar recalled that the Bihar Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution for conducting a caste-based census in February 2019 and again in February 2020 and had sent them to the Centre. Notably, the BJP and JD(U) had supported the resolutions in 2020.
In 2019, Kumar had stressed the need for a caste-based census saying such data was expected to expose several myths surrounding the development of backward and marginalised people and help in the formulation of schemes for their socio-economic progress.
A census on caste lines can have huge political implications. Several regional parties, including BJP’s allies, support it as they believe it will strengthen the demand for raising the quota for OBCs, who are estimated to be more than 50% of the population and get 27 per cent reservation.