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As Lok Sabha debates OBC Bill, BJP MP bats for caste census, party in a spot

The Badaun MP Sanghmitra Maurya left many in the BJP wondering. She is the daughter of prominent EBC leader and UP Minister Swami Prasad Maurya, who switched to the BJP from BSP in 2016, months before the last state elections.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: August 11, 2021 7:21:44 am
As Lok Sabha debates OBC Bill, BJP MP bats for caste census, party in a spotA view of the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021.

Despite pressure from allies and some sections within, the BJP-led Central Government had managed to put a lid so far on demands for a caste-based census. But the ruling party was in a spot Tuesday when one of its own MPs from election-bound UP raised the issue in the Lok Sabha.

Listed as the BJP’s first speaker on the Constitutional Amendment Bill that seeks to restore the power of states to draw up their own OBC lists, Badaun MP Sanghmitra Maurya instead praised the Government for “granting the power to the states for caste census”.

“Even cattle have been counted state-wise… how many cattle are in each district and which animals are more in which district. But backward classes have never been counted,” she said while accusing previous Congress governments of not doing justice to OBC communities.

The MP’s remarks left many in the BJP wondering. She is the daughter of prominent EBC leader and UP Minister Swami Prasad Maurya, who switched to the BJP from BSP in 2016, months before the last state elections.

Besides, the Central Government had only recently clarified that it would not, as a matter of policy, enumerate the population caste-wise in the census — except for SCs and STs.

“Today, the Prime Minister has empowered the states for the population’s caste count. The backwards, people of our castes classes and society, become the focus only during elections. But in the times to come, I am sure we will not only matter during elections but will be the focus of everyone, like the Modi government has inducted 27 ministers from these communities in the Government,” she said.

The MP also questioned the Congress for not publishing the caste census in 2011.

BJP sources said Sanghmitra Maurya’s pitch for a caste-based census has “embarrassed the party”. Incidentally, the MP wound up her speech in just eight minutes, which is unusually short for a first speaker.

After the day’s session, The Indian Express tried to contact the MP for a comment on her speech but she was unavailable.

The BJP leadership is not keen on a caste-based census and fears that such a move could “boomerang” and affect its prospects in the upcoming elections. The SP and BSP — both key BJP rivals in UP — have lent their weight to demands for a caste-based census. In Bihar, the Opposition RJD has backed the demand made by the BJP’s ruling ally JD(U).

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, which was earlier headed by senior BJP leader Ganesh Singh, has also proposed a census of OBCs.

However, sources in the Centre said the top leadership is of the “view that the Government should not agree to such an enumeration soon”. They said that the leadership has been given a “suggestion” that an overall enumeration of OBC communities, without differentiating the caste, could be conducted to assess the size of their population. “Now, the party will discuss it,” said a senior leader.

On July 20, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, MoS Home Nityanand Rai had said: “The state governments of Maharashtra and Odisha have requested to collect caste details in the forthcoming census. The Government of India has decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than SCs and STs in the census.”

Incidentally, on August 31, 2018, following a meeting chaired by then Home Minister Rajnath Singh to review preparations for Census 2021, the Press Information Bureau had said: “It is also envisaged to collect data on OBC for the first time.”

Meanwhile, the debate on the OBC Bill, which the BJP says is a major step for OBC communities, provided a platform for its allies JD(U) and Apna Dal to push their demand for a caste-based census.

Supporting the Bill, JD(U) president and MP Rajiv Ranjan, better known as Lalan Singh, led a delegation to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week and demanded caste-based enumeration.

Pointing out that his party, including Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has put forward the suggestion, he said: “There has been no caste census since 1931. There’s going to be a census soon. Our request is that there should be a caste-based enumeration during the census in 2022.” His party colleague Chandeshwar Prasad reiterated the demand.

Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel, who is a Minister in the BJP-led Government, had said: “It is necessary to know the population of the backward communities…We need to know the real count for welfare programmes, and representation of deprived sections is important. It’s the need of the hour and the nation wants it.”

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