'Won't Take Long For Work to Begin' : Nitish Kumar on Bihar Caste Census

The Bihar chief minister said an all-party meeting will be convened soon to work out modalities.

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New Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Monday, May 16, asserted that “it will not take long” before work began on a state-level caste-based census, which he had agreed to after the inability expressed by the Union government to conduct the same on a national level.

Talking to reporters here, the chief minister said he had also made this known to the leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav who met him last week to discuss the issue.

Zyada der nahin lagega (it will not take long)…We will convene an all-party meeting where representatives can give their suggestions. It will be followed by a cabinet approval. Modalities like how many officials to deploy, etc., will also be worked out,” said Kumar.

The Janata Dal (United) leader said the proposed all-party meeting could have taken place earlier but for “other engagements like elections which kept all busy”.

Humne unko bata diya hai (I have told him),” said Kumar when asked about the meeting he had with Yadav, his former deputy, who had been alleging procrastination on the issue.

The Union government has said it will not be able to conduct a headcount of castes other than Dalits and tribals as part of the census, notwithstanding strong demand for the same from political parties in Bihar where resolutions have been twice passed, unanimously, by the state legislature.

Bihar’s politics has been dominated by the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the numerically powerful social group to which both Kumar and Yadav belong and they are of the view that a fresh estimate of the population is necessary to ensure a more effective delivery of targeted welfare.

Also read: ‘Why Does India Fear a Caste Census?’: Answers From a Conference

Notably, Kumar had also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to press the demand last year, heading an all-party delegation of which Yadav, who belongs to the RJD, was also a part.

Although JD (U) and BJP run an alliance government in the state, they have not seen eye to eye on this. The state BJP initially did support, along with other parties in Bihar, Nitish’s call for enumeration of castes. However, with the Union government ruling out that it would not carry out such an exercise, the state BJP is caught in a bind.

When the matter came up in the Supreme Court last year, the Union government contended that such an exercise was not feasible given that there are too many castes and sub-castes in each state and Union territory making it difficult to classify them. In support of its stance, the Union government cited that the socio-economic caste census conducted by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2011 contained too “many discrepancies”. The 2011 socioeconomic data from the census was made public only in 2015, but the caste data was withheld due to “discrepancies”.

While on the surface both the Union government and Nitish Kumar’s party cite administrative reasons to oppose and call for caste census respectively, at a deeper level there are politics involved in the matter.

It is believed that the BJP is wary of allowing caste census, for it may once again resurrect the political fortunes of regional parties such as Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose core voters are largely from the OBC community.

(With PTI inputs)