Caste Census is the Congress’ New Mantra to Corner BJP

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By Sami Ahmad

NEW DELHI–The Chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the special session of the Parliament beginning on 18 September. She has pointed out that this Special Session has been convened without consultation with other parties, and no one has any idea of its agenda.

She has asked for time to discuss seven issues. The seventh point of the 9-point agenda given by her reads as ‘urgent need for Caste Census’. The letter mentions also issues like Centre-State relations, the current economic situation and the demand for the Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the transactions of the Adani business group.

Till a few months back Caste Census was a demand of regional parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal United (JDU) in Bihar. After a few legal hurdles, the Bihar government has successfully conducted a caste survey and the results are expected to be made public soon.

There is a legal argument over who can conduct a caste census and a caste survey. It is generally agreed that a census can be conducted only by the central government, but the states can conduct caste surveys only. Experts say that it is a technical matter and the use of different  terminology doesn’t make a big difference. The last caste census is said to have been conducted in 1931.

Now, caste survey is inseparably related to reservation in government institutions. So, it is believed that once the caste survey is out, caste-based reservations may be required to readjust as by the result of the survey actual position of different castes would be revealed.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be nervous about the conducting of a caste census or even a caste survey. In Bihar, when the state government had to stop the caste survey briefly as the Patna High Court stayed the process, BJP leaders used this to attack Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The BJP leaders’ glee on the stay could not long last as the High Court finally vacated its stay and allowed the state government to complete the process of the caste survey.

The BJP leaders’ one section is apparently not in favor of conducting the caste survey but they avoid saying this in a straightforward manner. They accuse that that caste survey will further aggravate the caste divide and struggle.

Some of the BJP leaders welcomed the verdict of Patna High Court allowing the state government to complete the process of the caste survey. The RJD and JDU leaders accuse the BJP leaders of double-speak and say that if the BJP is in favor of caste survey why don’t they conduct it in the BJP-ruled states?

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav asked the BJP leader to conduct a caste census by the central government. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi too had favored the same. This demand makes the BJP jittery. Now, the Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi has mentioned the Caste Census as an ‘urgent need’.

So, while the BJP-led central government has kept the opposition guessing about the agenda of the Special Session, the Congress has put its agenda wide and clear. The government has yet not responded to the agenda sent by Sonia Gandhi, but it is clear that the Congress is going to press the ‘Caste Census’ button very hard.

It may be mentioned that the general census is delayed by two years as it was scheduled in 2021. But the general census was not held in 2021 mostly due to the spread of Covid-19. For undeclared reasons, the central government has not announced the caste census much after the pandemic is officially over.

In this scenario, the central government has the option to conduct the caste census along with the general census. But, the date of the general census is still not announced.

Now, as the Congress has included the caste census the government is bound to respond. Even if the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government opts not to respond, it will be a sort of response. The Congress and the opposition parties who are in favor of the caste census will argue that the Modi government is opposed to the caste census.

The caste census is a double-edged sword for the BJP. If it supports the caste census, the outcome is expected to vex it as there would be a fresh row and a demand for extending reservation because the representation would be known. If the BJP chooses to support more reservations, its upper caste base would get annoyed.

 If it opposes the reservation its OBC base would erase. The chief of RSS Mohan Bhagwat recently said that reservations should continue till equality is established. He also confessed to the atrocities committed by the upper castes to the backward castes.

Mr. Bhagwat was heavily criticized in 2015 when just before the election of Bihar Assembly, he opined that the reservations need to be reviewed. Mr. Bhagwat is a Brahman himself. After the debacle in that election, as BJP could win just 53 seats, RSS has changed its stand on reservations. But analysts say that the change in stand about reservation is just tactical and the actual stand could revive any day.

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