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Bihar: Nitish's JD-U Dares Amit Shah to Conduct Countrywide Caste Census

If the BJP-led Centre is genuinely in favour of a caste census, it is its duty to conduct a countrywide census to understand the socio-economic conditions of all, as was done in Bihar, says senior party leader Neeraj Kumar.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah being presented a memento by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the 26th meeting of Eastern Zonal Council, in Patna, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah being presented a memento by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the 26th meeting of Eastern Zonal Council, in Patna, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: The ruling Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) issued a challenge to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday, urging him to conduct a nationwide caste census, asserting that it would provide clarity on all aspects. The move comes as a response to Shah's recent remarks questioning the data of the Bihar caste survey report, raising concerns about the survey's fairness and prioritisation of specific communities.

Senior JD-U leader Neeraj Kumar, the chief party spokesperson and a close associate of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stated, "Amit Shah ji, you have the constitutional power and the right to conduct a caste census. If the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)-led central government is genuinely in favour of a caste census, it is your duty to conduct a countrywide caste census to understand the socio-economic conditions of all, as was done in Bihar."

Neeraj Kumar emphasised that Shah should refrain from questioning the Bihar caste survey report and its data, suggesting that conducting a nationwide caste census would address any concerns or doubts. Nitish Kumar has also echoed similar sentiments in recent days, pushing for a comprehensive caste census to put the BJP in a challenging position.

Shah, following the 26th Eastern Zonal Council meeting in Patna on Sunday, expressed reservations about the Bihar caste survey report, specifically mentioning issues related to the prioritisation of certain communities and perceived injustices towards Extreme Backward Castes (EBCs). He indicated hope that the state government would resolve these issues and clarified that the central government had no intention of obstructing the caste-based survey.

Since the release of the caste survey report by the Mahagathbandan government led by Nitish Kumar on October 2, 2023, BJP leaders and allies have questioned its authenticity, primarily focusing on the population percentage of different castes in the state. However, the BJP and its allies, mindful of the political repercussions ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, appear hesitant to oppose the survey outright, opting instead to raise questions as a face-saving mechanism.

Leaders such as BJP state president Samrat Choudhary, Upendra Kushwaha, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustan Awam Morcha, and Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan have alleged large-scale irregularities in the caste survey data and called for a revision. Notably, they failed to present any historical data for comparison, as the last caste census occurred in 1931 during British rule, and there is no official data available.

Despite their concerns, the BJP and its allies have remained silent about the significant increase in the population of Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), according to the caste survey. The Dalit population, in particular, has risen from 15.9% in the 2011 Census to 19.65%, showing a notable increase of 3.75% in the overall Dalit population in the last 12 years. Similarly, the Adivasi population has increased from 1.28% (2011 Census) to 1.68%.

While BJP leaders emphasise the rise in the Muslim population by 0.7 to 0.8%, Nitish Kumar's JD-U has consistently accused the top BJP leadership of obstructing the caste survey within the state. JD-U leaders contend that interference from the Central government in the Supreme Court proceedings challenging the Patna High Court's decision to proceed with the caste survey in Bihar is an attempt to undermine the ongoing survey.

The differences between the ruling coalition and the BJP centre around the Central government's intervention in the petitions challenging the Patna High Court's decision on the caste survey in Bihar. The state government's decision to increase reservations aligns with the caste survey report's data, which provides insights into the socio-economic status of various castes.

According to the Bihar caste survey report, the state comprises 215 castes, with a total population of 13.7 crore. The breakdown includes 36% EBCs, 27% OBCs (combining OBCs and EBCs), 19% SCs (Dalits), and 1.68% STs (Adivasis).

The socio-economic data from the report reveals that approximately 34.13% (nearly 95 lakh) of all families in the state live in poverty, with a monthly income of just Rs 6,000. This includes Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, and EBCs, with 42.93% of SC and 42.70% of ST families facing poverty. Among OBCs, 35.87% of Yadav families, 34.32% of Kushwahas, and 29.9% of Kurmis face poverty. Conversely, only 25.09% of General Category (Upper caste) families live in poverty, with the highest prevalence among Bhumihars at 27.58%, followed by Brahmins.

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