Patna: A day after Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav gave an ultimatum of 72 hours to Bihar chief minister (CM) Nitish Kumar to clarify his stand on conducting a caste census in the state, the CM discussed the issue with him at his official residence on Wednesday evening ignoring his ally Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strong reservations.
Janata Dal (United) national president Lalan Singh had already supported Yadav’s demand for a caste census. On Tuesday, Yadav had warned of Opposition action if a caste census is delayed further and sought an appointment with Kumar.
“I have sought an appointment from the chief minister whom I wish to meet in the next 48 to 72 hours. If he refuses to meet me or shows his helplessness in the matter, the Opposition will decide the future course of action accordingly. I have already stated that we seem to be left with no other option than to take out a padayatra from Bihar to Delhi to press the demand for a caste census,” he told reporters in Patna, according to news agency PTI.
Subsequently, Kumar’s office called Tejashwi for a meeting and both the leaders discussed the demand. The RJD has taken an aggressive stand against the Centre’s decision not to conduct a caste census. Both JD(U) and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD are ‘pro-Mandal’ and have been demanding a caste-based census.
Hours before meeting Kumar, Yadav had said that the CM, who had announced eight months ago to hold an all-party meeting to conduct a caste-based census in Bihar, has yet to convene such a meeting. Reiterating its stand on a caste census, Yadav made it clear that he will not be silent. “It is part of our agenda and we will fight for it.”
Recalling that Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai in a written statement had informed the Lok Sabha last year that the Centre had decided not to conduct a caste census but only an enumeration of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Yadav had earlier termed the BJP as an anti-social justice party.
Other than the JD(U), former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, the founder of Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state, also supported Yadav on a caste census. Targeting the Centre and the Bihar government on Tuesday, Manjhi tweeted saying that the “number of donkeys in the country can be counted but a caste census can’t be conducted”.
Vikassheel Insaan Party president Mukesh Sahani, a former ally of the NDA, also supported Yadav.
The Bihar Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution on conducting a caste-based census in February 2019 and had sent it to the Centre in February 2020. Notably, the BJP and the JD(U) had supported the resolution.
In recent months, senior BJP leaders, including Kumar’s Cabinet colleagues, have publicly voiced opposition to a caste-based census in the state. The party seems to fear that an actual count of the OBC population might prod regional parties to demand more quotas in Central government jobs and educational institutions.
The Centre released the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 only in 2015 but still withheld the caste-based data. The government said that it was only concerned with the economic data, which would help it implement its programmes effectively.
Kumar time and again has expressed support for a caste census by saying that an exercise should, at least, be conducted once. Such a census can count the number of people belonging to different poor and marginalised castes in other regions. The last caste census was conducted in 1931.