- Nitish Kumar has called an all-party meeting to decide on conducting Caste Census in the state
- On the face of it, parties say that they want welfare schemes to reach every section of society
- But the truth is that regional parties want to estimate their own voter base, which is mainly a particular Caste
Independent India was supposed to be free of every social hierarchy imposed by the Britishers, especially the caste. But, maintaining caste’s relevance in the public sphere provided a huge political advantage to regional parties. That is why in their days of being broken and dead, they are resorting to Caste Census.
Nitish Kumar in support of Caste Census
Caste Census is again in the news. And again, it’s only parties who have failed to conquer the hearts of the whole nation that are demanding it. This time, Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar seems to have zeroed down on his decision to conduct Caste Census in his own state. Nitish has decided to bring all parties to the discussion table regarding the modalities of Caste Census in Bihar.
Speaking on the side of Buddha Jayanti function in Patna, Nitish said, “Zyada der nahin lagega (It will not take long). Every political party will be asked to give its opinion in the all-party meeting before taking further steps for caste census. The government will consider the suggestions before presenting the proposal before the state cabinet. I have already informed the leader of opposition, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, when he recently met me over the issue,”
What lies at the core of the issue?
Ever Since the regional parties started to shake the national political landscape, they have been demanding the official division of Indians on the ground of Caste. Obviously, on the face of it, the main argument is that it will help strengthen the social security net by categorising beneficiaries in different folds.
Currently, Indian Census data does consist of categories like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes, but all other castes are put under General Category. Politicians are primarily vouching for counting Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the Caste Census. Various private companies have tried to estimate the number of OBCs in the past, but policies are devised only on the basis of official data. Last time an official estimate of OBC population was published by the Mandal Commission, which pinned the percentage of OBCs in India at 52.
According to those supporting Caste Census, it will help strengthen the fold of reservation in the OBC category. Apparently, a creamy layer in the reserved category has crept into the system. These people no longer need affirmative action to get out of their backwardness, but they still hold it while the deserved ones are left behind. Supporters of Caste Census argue that this discrepancy will be removed if there are proper statistics around the wealth and status of various castes.
Political twist to the noble cause
However, in a democracy, there is always a political angle to the noblest of all causes. It is true for Caste Census as well. Regional parties are at an all-time low in the post-Indira Gandhi phase of Indian politics. According to a study, their vote share was at its peak in the 1996 general elections when they grabbed more than 50 per cent of total votes. The vote share remained consistent for the better part of the next two decades.
However, the onset of PM Modi in 2014 drastically changed the scenes. In 2014, they were able to garner some respect, owing to the fact that a large percentage of the population was still under the influence of leftist media’s narrative around PM Modi. Over the next 5 years, PM Modi’s and henceforth his party BJP’s popularity started to spike. Various welfare schemes not targeting individuals based on their caste, religion played a key role in it.
Regional parties are on the decline
Slowly, but steadily, regional parties either disappeared or lost a large part of their clout. In West Bengal, a huge part of Mamata’s voter base drifted towards BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, voters outrightly rejected the caste factions created by Mayawati and Mulayam and voted unanimously for development. In fact, Muslims, especially the women, also flocked in large numbers to vote for BJP which was being projected by regional parties as anti-Muslim. Similarly, even in Bihar, Nitish Kumar chose to side with the national party BJP after forming a coalition government with state-oriented RJD.
On the other hand, in South India, behemoths like Chandrababu Naidu witnessed a steep decline in their fame. His replacement Jaganmohan Reddy is also not very popular and is constantly challenged by the rise of anti-missionary sentiments in the state. On the other hand, KCR is also terrified of his prospects which was reflected in his latest rounds of deliberations with Prashant Kishore.
In Tamil Nadu, BJP has registered a rise in its stocks, owing to firebrand former IPS officer K. Annamalai joining its ranks in the state. Similarly, in Communist-ruled Kerala, the political killings of pro-BJP people are grabbing headlines, which is a big development, considering the fact that there is extremely less political freedom for the opposition in the Communist regime.
Caste Census is actually Voter Census
Other than their constant decline, there is one other link which binds the aforementioned regional party leaders. They all unanimously support the Caste Census. The support has gone to such an extent that RJD which was betrayed by JDU in 2017 is standing with Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Yadav has shown full faith in his arch-nemesis Nitish Kumar’s ability to conduct Caste Census.
The fundamental principle of the existence of regional parties is Caste. RJD and SP are known for catering to Yadavs, similarly, leaders like Mamata, Jagan and Stalin are busy strengthening casteism in their Muslim and Christian vote banks. It is only natural for them to demand Caste Census.
It will serve two purposes. firstly, they will be able to determine the actual number of their vote base. Secondly, after getting the breakdown of their numbers on the constituency level, they will be able to channelise their election spending in a better way. Knowing their strength and weakness will save them a lot of resources and may help them in coming back from the brink of extinction.
Caste needs to be eliminated from public conscience
On the other hand, parties having clout over the whole nation are divided on the issue. While BJP by and large stands against the Census, Congress is dilly-dallying on the issue, owing to the fact that its national party status is on the verge of changing to a regional party.
Even Reservation, the fundamental battle load of Caste, was put in the Constitution for only 10 years. B.R Ambedkar knew that to form a society not based on Caste hierarchy, the word had to be removed from public consciousness and the process for that would start by removing it from official documents. But, he never forethought the greed of national parties.