Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar led an all-party delegation recently and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demand caste-based Census (in the state and across the country). The development has brought back the focus on enumeration of castes in the Census. But, for the BJP this is a politically tricky subject given that the state agenda in Bihar is at odds with the national view.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to RJD MP Manoj Jha to know the reasons for political parties, including arch rivals JD (U) and RJD, standing united in calling for a caste Census. Jha insisted that caste-based Census is needed, rejecting the Central government’s claim that a caste-based assessment could deepen divides. An attempt to abolish reservation system will go against the preamble of the Constitution of India, the RJD MP said.
Q: Political parties in Bihar have come together on the issue of caste Census. Even arch-rivals JD (U) and RJD too have joined hands on this issue.
A: It is not about the identity of RJD or JD (U). All political parties will now have to look at the dynamics of politics. The opening line of the preamble of the Indian Constitutions says … We the people…. The demand for caste Census is not a recent phenomenon. In 2011, RJD chief Lalu Yadav had raised the demand for it and was later joined by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and BJP’s Gopi Nath Munde. Theoretically speaking, all the parties have agreed on the caste Census. Subsequently, some data had been collected. When BJP came to power in 2014, I had asked many questions in Parliament on this issue. I was informed that the data got corrupted and also there were some technical issues.
When campaign for Bihar Assembly elections started, it was Tejasvi Yadav who made a strong pitch for it. Later Nitish Kumar also started talking about it. Interestingly, the Bihar Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution for the second time in February 2020, in just over a year, favouring a caste-based Census in 2021. The ambivalent BJP too had to jettison its stand and supported it. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and leader of Opposition Tejasvi Yadav met the Prime Minister, along with a delegation of Bihar MLAs, and briefed him about the need of caste-based Census. The caste Census is essentially about revisiting the idea of development. The development should reach the last caste or community of this country.
Q: What did the PM say to the delegation led by Nitish Kumar with regard to the caste Census?
A: The PM listened to us. I am hopeful that something concrete will happen.
Q: The Central Government has long held that a caste-based assessment could deepen divides. Weeks earlier the Centre told Parliament it had decided not to carry out a caste-based count as a matter of policy.
A: A lot of anomalies can be found in this government on several issues. It has not learnt to speak in one voice. In 2018, the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the floor of the House had confirmed that caste should be the basis of next census. Now what can you say about the junior Home Minister’s remarks. A political party which thrives on dividing people or communities is worried about division? It is a bogus argument. The Mandal Commission had derived data on the basis of 1931 caste-based Census. In 2021, shouldn’t the government know who is doing the menial job in the country? Who is migrating from peripheral areas to Delhi or Mumbai? Unless you have scientific data, the budgetary allocations or models of development or idea of sabka saath, sabka vikas will remain empty rhetoric. If you want to convert rhetoric into a reality, then the government will have to agree to our demand for a caste-based Census. It will give an accurate picture of a particular caste and its social conditions. Reservation should be given according to population of different castes. The government should concede to our demand at the earliest.
Q: In UP, the BJP took three important steps to keep several castes happy. These decisions are being seen as part of BJP's social engineering idea.
A: The BJP is deeply confused as it does not talk in one voice. Any political party with a minimum sensibility and understanding of the situation of India won’t say `no’ to caste-based Census. More so, it is not caste-based Census but a socio-economic Census in the context of castes. Many castes and communities have yet to see the minimum level of development in India. Shouldn’t the government be worried about them? If not, then it may affect its prospects in the next elections.
Q: The government has introduced a ‘quota within the quota’, reserving 10% of the jobs for the poor among the upper castes and not to all. It is perceived widely as the first step towards abolishing caste-based reservations.
A: The data is required for implementation of `quota within quota’ and for the Rohini Commission constituted to examine the issue of sub categorization of OBCs. Those dreaming of abolishing reservation system are dreaming against the very spirit of the Preamble of the Constitution.
Q: What is the difference between BSP’s social engineering and BJP’s social engineering?
A: I do not agree with the very idea of social engineering. Historically, this term was used by Adolf Hitler in a different context. We all know what emanated out of that. I would rather look at the fact that if any political party is making a coalition of castes, it should be more than a mere symbolism. Most of the political parties which swear by social engineering actually offer nothing. People will not be convinced by this tactic any longer.
Q: What will be your next course of action, if nothing happens on caste Census?
A: Indian political history is a witness to the fact that whenever Parliament has been made a mute spectator by such kind of governance, then people will hit the roads and take a call.