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New Delhi: Stepping up their campaign for a caste-based census, a delegation of ten parties from Bihar headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday in support of the demand.
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 such a census was in national interest and will be a historic measure to help the poor and the most deprived sections of the society. “If animals and trees can be counted, so can people,” he said.
Kumar was joined by representatives of all major parties, including the BJP and Congress, as they submitted their demand to Prime Minister Modi. Asked about the prime minister’s response, Kumar said Modi gave all of them a patient hearing. “He did not deny what we said (need for caste census).”
With census being the Union’s prerogative, 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 Kumar and Yadav referred to the statement of Union minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai’s reply in the Rajya Sabha that there was no proposal for releasing caste-based population data, with the chief minister saying it triggered “unrest” among people.
A certain bonhomie between the two political rivals who have been allies in the past was also on display as Kumar credited the young RJD leader for making the proposal for an all-party delegation meeting with the prime minister. Yadav too expressed thanks to the chief minister for working on it and seeking time from Modi.
Asked if Kumar’s JD(U), which is part of the BJP-led NDA, and the RJD are coming closer, Yadav said, “The opposition in Bihar has always supported the government over pro-people measures and those in national interest.”
He further added, “Once the caste census is carried out, we will get to know actual information about all castes. Development work for them can then be taken up effectively.” Noting the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are counted and census also includes data about different religions, Yadav asked, “Why then others cannot be counted?”
With critics claiming that caste census may fuel casteism and animosity, he noted that census data on religion 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. He further added that their demand was not specific to Bihar, but for a nationwide counting of people of different castes. Kumar and Yadav also thanked Modi for the meeting.
Asked about his brother Tej Pratap Yadav’s angry outbursts against some RJD leaders for allegedly ignoring him in the party’s affairs, Tejashwi Yadav parried the query and said he will stick to speaking on the issues of “national interest”.
A census on caste lines can have huge political implications. A number of regional parties, including BJP’s allies, have batted for it as they believe that it will strengthen the demand for raising the quota for the OBCs, who are estimated to be over 50% of the population and get only 27% of reservation. Though many OBC leaders of the BJP support the demand, the party has so far not taken a categorical stand on the fraught issue.
Some believe that a caste census will bring Mandal politics to the centre stage of politics. It 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 party to make massive inroads into the OBC vote bank at the expense of state-based parties.