BIHAR Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who led an all-party delegation from the state to meet Narendra Modi Monday on the caste census issue, indicated the ball was now in the Prime Minister’s court, adding that the PM gave all of them a patient hearing and said he would look into the matter.
Sources said the PM told the delegation, which included the BJP, that the Home Ministry would have to take a call.
The regional parties, which see an opportunity to mount pressure on the BJP, particularly ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, are reportedly planning to send another delegation to the PM with the same demand later this week.
Kumar led a 10-party delegation — including his JD(U), its allies BJP, HAM-S, VIP, as well as the Congress, CPI (ML) and AIMIM — with the Bihar Assembly having passed a unanimous resolution backing a caste census. Sources in Kumar’s JD(U) said the CM was “optimistic” that the Centre would take an “affirmative stand”.
“People in Bihar and the entire country are of the same opinion. We are grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to us. Now, he has to take a decision on it,” Kumar told reporters after the meeting.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, who was part of the delegation, said such a census would help the poor. “In the interest of the nation, it will be a historical step, all the poor will benefit…When animals and trees are counted, why not castes? When the government has no scientific data on the population, how can it make welfare policies?” Yadav said.
He also argued that states could include castes in the OBC list — as cleared by an amendment in the recent Parliament session — only after such a census. On the argument that a caste census could lead to unrest, the RJD leader said, “Then the same logic applies to religion as well.” Yadav also pointed out that the Centre was yet to make public the findings of the socio-economic survey conducted in 2011 under the Congress-led UPA government.
According to sources, the delegation told the PM that a number of parties have made the demand and “that neither the BJP nor the Central government is going to lose anything” due to such a move.
While there are now growing calls from even within the BJP to take a stand on the matter, the party has so far avoided this. The Union government recently said that as per existing policy, only SCs and STs were to be enumerated in the Census.
In an interview with The Indian Express last week, Union minister Bhupender Yadav said, “The ministry concerned has to take so many things into account… No decision has been taken yet.”
The BJP is weighing its move carefully as OBC support has been crucial to its expansion across the country — reflected in the moderation of its image from being seen as solely a “Brahmin-Baniya party” and the recent Union Cabinet expansion with generous representation to OBC communities.
JD(U) leaders claim data showing that despite the OBC quota, only 9.42% Class A employees in the Central government (52 ministries and departments), for example, are from OBC groups; only 8.95% of them hold Class B jobs; while their numbers in Class C are 18.94%.
With more and more regional parties lending support to the caste census demand — including the YSRCP, BJD, SP, NCP, BSP, PDP, National Conference, DMK, AIADMK, TRS, Left parties and TMC — the pressure on the BJP is set to grow.
The SP and YSRCP said Monday that they would join any future delegation to the PM on the matter. A delegation of BJD MPs earlier separately met Modi seeking caste-based enumeration.
The BJD-ruled Odisha has also initiated moves to conduct a caste based census, as has the Shiv Sena-led coalition government in Maharashtra. After the Maharashtra Assembly passed a resolution on this, the State Commission for Backward Classes earlier this month cleared the decks for a Socio Economic and Caste Census.
During the recent Parliament session, a BJP Lok Sabha MP, Sanghmitra Maurya, had left the party in a spot when she called for a caste-based census during the debate on the amendment reverting power to states on deciding OBC lists. Another senior BJP leader from Bihar, Sushil Modi, recently said the party was never against caste census.
The BJP’s Janak Ram, who was part of the delegation that met Modi Monday, said everyone was “satisfied” and the PM’s decision would be acceptable to all.
After the meeting, bitter rivals Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav went out of their way to showcase their bonhomie on the matter, with the CM crediting the RJD leader with proposing an all-party delegation to meet the PM, and Yadav thanking Kumar for working on it and seeking time from Modi. It was the first time all Bihar parties had come on one platform for a cause.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who was also part of the delegation, said a caste census would benefit people from backward sections. “Modi ji has parliamentary power, he should make law. Sub-categorisation of OBCs is also important.”
Former Bihar CM and HAM(S) head Jitan Ram Manjhi tweeted: “He (the PM) tried to understand all aspects. Meeting with him and his gesture suggest that there could be a constructive decision in interest of the nation.”
CPI (ML) MLA Mehboob Alam said: “I told the PM that there should be a census of people of all religions and castes. Muslims too have many castes. There are about one crore Surjapuri Muslims in the Seemanchal belt. Though the Bihar government puts them under OBC, the Centre does not acknowledge them.”
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