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Caste-based census: Caste assertion or promotion or annihilation

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/25/2021 1:43:13 PM IST

 In the given situation, it is hoped that a multi-party delegation would meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a national caste census soon. Towards this end, the chief Minister and opposition leader of Bihar along with others have already met the Prime Minister. Caste-based head count is a mix of politics and “deprivation”.  Other political parties would certainly follow suit. BJP at one point opposed the caste count, then supported and now carefully observing. 

However, a BJP leader from Bihar and a Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi said that “BJP has never been against caste census, that’s why we have been a part of the resolution passed in the legislative assembly and legislative council on this issue”.  He tweeted that in what was seen as a move to highlight the ruling party’s “in principle” agreement with the growing clamour for estimating the numerical strength of hundreds of castes.”

The reasons for going all out for caste-based census are varying. The opposition leader of Bihar from RJD Tejasvi Prasad Yadav while endorsing the head count said “When animals and trees are counted, why not humans”.  Sushil Modi recalled the statement made by the then Gopinath Munde, who headed the rural development said in 2014 in Parliament said that “government could not accept findings of the socio-economic Caste Census as reliable because of the infirmities in the data collected.” 

He added that “At that time, on the instructions of the central government, when the Social Economic Caste survey was conducted by the ministries of rural development and urban development, crores of errors were found in it. The number of castes reached into the millions,” and concluded that the report was not made public because of inaccuracies. Substantiating further, the BJP leader said that at the time of the last census of 1931 under the British Raj, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa were one. “The census of only 22 castes was done in the population of about 1 crore of Bihar at that time. Now after 90 ears there has been a big difference in the economic, social, geographical and political conditions.” 

He added that although there are many technical and practical difficulties in conducting caste census, yet BJP is in support of it in principle.  Sanghmitra Maurya while participating in the 127th amendment bill, had made a strong plea for caste census. In line with the rationale provided by political leaders on caste census especially on the looming “politics of OBCs”, PM Modi responded in his cabinet expansion gave a record representation to members of OBC’s in his team and ensured promulgation of all India quota in medical courses. Earlier BJP Lok Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh Sanghmitra Maurya and strongly supported the case-base census while speaking on the 127th amendment bill giving powers of the state to make their own OBC quota list.

Let us go back and recall what happened in the year 2015. When Siddaramaiah of the Congress party headed had commissioned the caste census in 2015, the first after 1935. Over a three-month period, 13.5 million households were surveyed, more than 1 lakh enumerators handled the work and the report was completed three years ago and is lying with the member secretary of the commission. According to H. Kantha Raju, a Former chairperson of the Karnataka Backward classes Commission, under whose supervision the census was carried out, said: “The ball is in the commission’s court. Let it submit the report first, then we will take a call.”

Countering Kantha Raju, CS Dwarakanth, former chairperson, State Commission for Backward Classes said “Accepting or rejecting the report comes later, Since the government has spent Rs. 168 crores of taxpayers’ money, it should make the report’s findings public.” However, political analysts believe that the report is not being released because of political reasons. Leaked details of the census in 2016 suggested a significant increase in the population of SCs, STs and Muslims. Until then, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, courted by all parties, were thought to be the largest social groups in the state.      

This is the crux of the head count. Social engineering of the political parties and its fortunes are solely dependent on caste calculus. For example, an IAS officer said that “This is the reason the successive governments are not keen to release the finding of the caste census. Even Siddaramaiah hesitated to release a part of the report ahead of the 2018 assembly polls, fearing that it would backfire. The current BJP dispensation is n exception. If the numbers of the leaked report are true, there could be huge political implications that could affect some parties.”

Caste is foundational of the Indian politics and society. There are repercussions, if the report is tabled. Political parties such as Congress and JD (S) could have tabled the report. Now BJP can do it. But none dared to release the report because they do not want gamble since the political parties are uncertain about the swing and in that who would benefit. If caste is only about ‘deprivation’, then it should be explained in greater details. Caste is much more than just ‘deprivation’. It denotes power, status, privilege, occupation, education and many others. 

CM of Bihar and other leaders from different political parties took the lead because OBCs are their deciding factor. Once census is done those parties thrive on OBCs would go all out for great reservation. Based on the population of each caste, reservation be worked. Now leaders of political parties say that policies and program be evolved, only if we have a clear picture about caste rubrics. And so, that there should be nation-wide census. They say, census offers a realistic factual data disclosing which caste least benefitted despite the governmental policies and programs. So, it enables GOI and the state governments to draft development plans. 

In addition, those castes not benefitted can be given boosters to benefit if there is head count data available. Arguments and justifications keep surfacing in favour as well as against. Nonetheless, OBCs as a cluster are more antagonistic towards the Dalits, Tribals and minorities. Their proximity is much visible and closer in the villages and also in other arenas. OBCs view reservations given to the Dalits and Tribals sceptically. Data shows that atrocities and honour killings perpetuated against the Dalits to a large extent by the OBCs. 

Once caste census is agreed upon, the caste-based political parties lure their vote banks vis-a-vis OBCs. In this way OBCs would immensely benefit seeking job reservations not only in the state and central governments, even in JEE, NEET and all government colleges and central universities. Caste-based political parties and national parties will vie to consolidate their vote base luring the backward communities for their political gains.   

Is caste-based census in the national interest? Indian society is caste-driven. Caste-based census once taken, all that said is forgotten. Every political party would be engaged in consolidating the OBC base. As of now OBCs are well represented in polity, judiciary, bureaucracy and other enforcing agencies. Their presence would further increase at alarming levels, while on the other the Dalits, Tribals and minorities especially Muslims would further be marginalized. If we take the socio-economic, educational and occupational profiles they are at the bottom.

As B.R. Ambedkar clearly pointed out that the social inequality ought to be addressed first followed by economic equilibria. What is happening in 21st Century India is caste assertion and promotion. As long as caste is used as an organising principle and determining factor in politics and for power consolidation, annihilation of caste continues to remain as a distant reality.      

Dr. John Mohan Razu

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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