Mounting pressure on the BJP, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Sunday reiterated his call for a caste census, saying it will be “in the national interest”, and urged the Centre to “reconsider” its position against such an exercise.
Nitish’s latest call comes three days after the Centre effectively ruled out a caste census in 2021, and told the Supreme Court that such an exercise “would not be feasible”, and that its stance on the issue is a “conscious policy decision”.
Pointing out that unanimous resolutions backing a caste census have been passed in the Bihar Assembly and Legislative Council, Nitish told reporters in Delhi: “All of us have already jointly placed our demand. The issue has come up now in connection with the socio-economic caste census matter in the court. It has no connection with our demand. We would like to request that the issue be considered and reconsidered, and caste census be carried out.”
Asked if the JD(U) would exit the NDA in the event of the Centre rejecting his request, Kumar said: “There is no point discussing all that now. We will sit together and decide the future roadmap…and if you look closely, this is not just our demand. The demand has been raised in many states, not just in Bihar. It will be in the national interest.”
Nitish said political parties in Bihar will now chart the future course of action on the matter over which he had led a 10-party delegation from the state, including JD(U)’s principal rival RJD, to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 23.
On September 23, submitting an affidavit in response to Maharashtra’s request that the data of the 2011 socio-economic census be revealed, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had informed the apex court that the data was “unusable” as it contains many technical flaws.
Referring to that submission, the Bihar Chief Minister stressed that ruling out a caste census citing errors in the 2011 exercise would be “wrong”. He said that such a census was needed to get “a clear idea about the situation”.
“It will help in identifying castes which remain backward. Consequently, corrective measures can be taken for their development. What they carried out in 2011 was a socio-economic caste census. It was not a caste census. And that was not undertaken properly and was not published. A caste census will be more systematic… To say that caste census cannot take place as the socio-economic caste census report is not right is not correct,” he said.
In ruling out the caste census, the Centre had reasoned in the apex court that there are multiple state and union territory lists in the case of OBCs. “In case, a question of OBCs is canvassed, it will return names of hundreds of thousands of castes, sub-castes. And it might be difficult to correctly classify such unspecified returns,” it had said in the affidavit.
Flagging his disagreement with the Centre, Nitish said: “(During the census) a person might share the name of his sub-caste. Do we have any caste in the country that does not have sub-castes? So training will have to be imparted (to enumerators). Caste, sub-caste, everything will have to be mentioned.”