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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Congress,BJP and Caste Census

Thank God,the Congress is divided over the inclusion of caste in Census 2011. Hail the failure of the Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee to reach a conclusion last week on this politically myopic and socially divisive issue....

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
July 11, 2010 3:25:28 am

Thank God,the Congress is divided over the inclusion of caste in Census 2011. Hail the failure of the Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee to reach a conclusion last week on this politically myopic and socially divisive issue. This is a reassuring sign that there are still some people in the Congress leadership capable of putting the nation before the party,and principles above populism. The GoM has rightly decided to seek the views of all political parties on a move,which,if approved,is bound to further intensify quota-driven caste politics at every level.

Here is an opportunity for the BJP to correct its mistake in hurriedly supporting caste Census without holding an in-depth and broadbased debate within the party. Since OBC politicians are most vocal in seeking caste Census—BJP’s Gopinath Munde and NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal demanding an OBC census from a common public platform recently—the BJP’s hasty decision undoubtedly stemmed from its desire not to lose the OBC votebank to its rivals. For a party that has rightly derided ‘votebank politics’ all these years,and which must rise above its own ‘Hindu votebank’ politics to be eligible to be called a truly national party,its ideological surrender before the lure of a caste-based votebank is lamentable.

BJP leaders should study their own history to see how,in their chase for the OBC votebank,they are turning a blind eye to an important principle espoused by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya,their ideological guru. This is what L.K. Advani writes in his autobiography: “The only time Deendayalji entered the electoral fray was in 1963,when he contested and lost a by-election to the Lok Sabha from Jaunpur in UP. In spite of the defeat,he proved to be a leader of unshakeable principles. An election in Jaunpur,and in many other constituencies in eastern UP,invariably used to be fought on caste lines,mainly between Rajputs and Brahmins. Since Deendayalji was born into a Brahmin family,the Congress fielded a Rajput candidate and conducted an aggressive campaign to woo Rajput votes. When some local Jana Sangh leaders wanted to play the Brahmin card,Deendayalji warned them: ‘If you try to win the election on caste lines,I shall immediately withdraw from the contest’.”

Similarly,Congress leaders—Rahul Gandhi,above all,since the party has accepted him as its future leader and also because he has an opportunity to start on a clean slate—would do well to study their own history. In recent times,they have steadily yielded to the mindset of quota politics,as evidenced by their shocking acceptance of the demand for Muslim reservations. They are guilty of turning a deaf ear to what Jawaharlal Nehru had said in a letter addressed to all chief ministers on 27 June 1961: “(Get) out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group…I dislike any kind of reservation,more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards…If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis,we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate,we are lost. I am grieved to learn how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations…This way lies not only folly but disaster.”

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If Nehruji is ancient history to today’s Congress leaders,they would do well to recall what Rajiv Gandhi had said in the Lok Sabha on September 6,1990,as the then leader of the Opposition,during the debate on the Mandal Commission’s report. He flayed Prime Minister V.P. Singh’s announcement of job reservations for OBCs as an attempt “to divide our country on caste and religion”,describing it as “not very different from what the Britishers were doing.”

Forward-looking leaders in both the Congress and the BJP owe it to the nation to reverse its downslide into the quagmire of caste-based politics and quota-based development. The toxin of caste Census would further hasten this degeneration. It would accelerate the bizarre race for,to borrow the title of Arun Shourie’s hard-hitting book,Falling Over Backwards—more and more castes wanting the OBC label and demanding,not without the possibility of violent conflicts,for a bigger slice of the reservations pie. The quota claims of ‘Dalit Muslims’ and ‘Dalit Christians’,both patently untenable misnomers,would become unstoppable. The only justifiable quotas are those meant for SCs and STs. However,here too the limitations of quota-dependent development have become obvious. If Dr Manmohan Singh,Rahul Gandhi,Advani and Gadkari are true to their own convictions,they’d certainly acknowledge that what is keeping crores of SCs,STs and the poor belonging to Muslims,Christians,Kurmis,Kunbis,Gujjars and thousands of other castes and sub-castes deprived of livelihood,education,healthcare,housing,drinking water and human dignity is not the inadequacy of quotas but the gross inadequacy of good governance. It is our polity’s acquiescence of corruption,inefficiency,insensitivity,apathy,and unaccountability in governance,all resulting in India’s unbalanced development,which is making people see elusive solutions to their problems in caste and communal identities,to the detriment of our common Indian identity. Caste census will harden these divisive identities and push good governance further into the background.

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