Stepping up their campaign for a caste-based census, a delegation of 10 parties from Bihar headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday in support of the demand. Nitish Kumar said after the meeting that all parties from Bihar 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 benefitted so far in line with their actual population.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, who was part of the delegation, said that such a census was in national interest and will be a historic measure and help the poor and the most deprived sections of the society. If animals and trees can be counted, so can people, he said.
CM Nitish was joined by representatives of all major parties, including the BJP and the Congress, as they submitted their demand to PM Modi. Asked about the PMâ€™s response, he said that Modi gave all of them a patient hearing and "did not deny what we said (need for caste census)".
It is now up to the Union government to take a call on the demand made by many parties, mostly those who draw their core support from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Speaking to reporters, both Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav referred to the statement of a Union minister, a reference to Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai's reply in Rajya Sabha that there was no proposal for releasing caste-based population data. The CM said that it triggered "unrest" among people.
A certain bonhomie between the two political rivals, who have been allies in the past, was also on display. Asked if Nitish Kumar's JD(U), which is part of the BJP-led NDA, and the RJD are coming closer, Tejashwi said that the opposition in Bihar has always supported the government over pro-people measures and those in national interest.
"Once caste census is carried out, then we will get to know actual information about all castes. Development work for them can then be taken up effectively," he said. Noting that the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes are counted and that the census also includes data about different religions, Tejashwi asked why couldnâ€™t others also be counted.
With critics claiming that caste census may fuel casteism and animosity, he noted that census based on people's religious affiliations had never caused any violence. A caste census will help the government find out who are the poorest people, and measures can be then taken to help them, the RJD leader said, adding that their demand was not specific to Bihar but for a nationwide counting of people of different castes.
Member of Lok Sabha Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, also voiced for caste census. â€śImplementation of case census is important for the betterment of people from backward sections. It should be introduced. Modi ji has parliamentary power, he should make law. Sub-categorisation of OBCs is also important,â€ť he said.
Another party that supports caste census is Pattali Makkal Katchi. PMK Chief Dr S Ramadoss urged Tamil Nadu government to lead an all-party delegation to meet the Union Government representatives for the same.
A census on caste lines can have huge political implications and a number of regional parties, including BJP's allies, have batted for it as they believe that it will strengthen the demand for raising quota for the OBCs, estimated to be over 50% of the population. Though many OBC leaders of the BJP support the demand, the party has so far not taken a categorical stand on the fraught issue.
There is a view that a caste census will bring the Mandal politics at the centre stage of politics and can be an effective weapon in the hands of regional parties to counter the BJP's Hindutva and welfare planks, the twin issues used by the saffron parties to make massive inroads into the OBC vote bank at the expense of state-based parties.
(With PTI input)