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Caste census: Seizing on central, Bihar BJP ‘disconnect’, Nitish eyes upper hand

Reeling under pressure from its senior Bihar coalition partner, the JD(U) dispensation has been seeking to highlight a different narrative, projecting the “contradiction” between the BJP's state and central units on the caste census issue.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: May 27, 2022 8:36:48 am
The state BJP, which has seen some of its central leaders differ on the issue, also backed the idea.

The BJP’s Bihar unit president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal’s statement – that the saffron party will attend the all-party meeting over the caste census to be convened by the ally Janata Dal (United) supremo and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on 1 June – might be a bid to scotch the buzz about strained ties between the two allies, but the JD(U) remains unimpressed.

Reeling under pressure from its senior Bihar coalition partner, the JD(U) dispensation has been seeking to highlight a different narrative, projecting the “contradiction” between the BJP’s state and central units on the caste census issue.

A few months back, senior BJP leader from Bihar and Union minister of state for home affairs, Nityanand Rai, had told Parliament that the caste census could not be carried out. The BJP-ruled Centre has been harping on the “problematic and erroneous” 2011 caste census and the point that it would be “impractical” to conduct the caste census.

The BJP’s national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan has said that the caste census alone would not ensure social justice and that the saffron party has taken several steps for realising its goal of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. He also underlined that the BJP has set up a national panel on the OBCs and has ensured the induction of 27 OBC ministers into the party-led central government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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The Bihar BJP would, however, steer clear of any such explanation that might give the impression that it wanted to stall the caste census proposal. It has been supporting this proposal from the beginning. It was part of a resolution on the issue that Nitish brought before the two Houses of the Bihar Legislature a few years ago and got it passed by them unanimously.

The Bihar BJP was also part of the state’s all-party delegation that had gone to meet PM Modi last year to press for the need of conducting the caste census. It had then sent its minister Janak Ram to represent the party.

On the issue, the state BJP is forced to appear with Nitish on the same page as it does not want the latter to take political advantage.

Senior BJP leader and ex-deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi has been backing the caste census idea regularly through his social media posts and articles. He also recently said the BJP always supported the idea within and outside the Assembly.

Jaiswal has also echoed similar views. Asked to explain the “contradictions” between the state and central BJP over the caste census, he told The Indian Express, “Nothing happens in the BJP without the Centre’s will. They have seen how problematic the 2011 caste census was.”

The Bihar BJP apparently looks at Nitish’s push for the caste census as a tactic to put pressure on the central BJP in order to keep the senior Bihar ally in check. It is aware of the question of constitutional validity over the caste census if it is done by a state. It has also said that some states have tried it and that the Centre was in favour of a state conducting its own caste census.

The issue at stake is however more about political posturing and counter-posturing. With lines of social justice being blurred among political parties, especially with the Centre having introduced a quota for the economically weaker section (EWS), the Bihar BJP has been trying to blunt Nitish’s biggest political aresenal. Preferring to stick to an ambivalent stand on the caste census issue, the central BJP has asked its Bihar leaders not to take direct questions over it.

As regards the JD(U), it believes that the apparent differences in the lines of the BJP at the state and central levels over the caste census buttresses a political narrative that would “expose the BJP’s idea of social justice”. On its part, the saffron party could barely gloss over the point that if Bihar holds its own caste census the credit would be cornered by Nitish.

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