Bihar Caste Census: An exercise to keep alive Mandal politics

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, April 21: There is no official record of caste data in India in the public domain. Bihar hopes to get the caste data by September this year. The state is spending over Rs 500 crores to ask caste details from the people.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a plea challenging the Bihar Caste Census. The petitioner pleaded that the ongoing caste census is socially divisive in nature. The apex court will hear the plea on April 28.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has been the original architect to press for the caste census. The RJD leader and deputy chief minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav’s demand for caste census was given credence by the state chief minister Nitish Kumar months ahead of him snapping ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The 1931 Caste Census is the only official reference point in the country, and the non-BJP parties have been arguing that the government needs to know the caste details to tweak the redistributive welfare and affirmative action measures.

Congress, fighting to stay a force in the national politics, is the new votary of the caste census. Ironically, Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had conducted the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011, which was given several extensions because of lack of scientific data collections works, had chosen not to release the caste data. The UPA government had deployed the socio-economic data to reorient the welfare schemes of the Central government.

But now Congress is more vocal about the caste census, ostensibly after the main Opposition party endorsed the DMK-led Opposition conclave in Chennai to take up the social justice plank for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“The SECC was instrumental in the rollout of the National Food Security Act,” claimed Congress president Mallikarjuna Kharge on Friday, while demanding that 2021 Census be held along with caste census.

Kharge, however, didn’t state that the National Food Security Act covered two-third of the population without any context of caste data. While Bihar is spending over Rs 500 crores for the caste census, the exercise at the national level may cost the country dear, which roughly could be to the tune of Rs 35000 crores or more.

A field survey by Dainik Bhaskar in Bihar in several districts revealed that the ongoing caste census is marred by grueling task to elicit authentic response from the people, who across the caste lines remain skeptical about the whole exercise, while not even refraining to dub the whole effort a political stunt.

The stated alibi for caste census is the demand for proportionate representation in jobs and educational institutions. On surface, the implementation of such a ground may prove to be impractical. By stretching the argument, the Muslims in the country may also seek proportionate representation in jobs, educational institutions and even legislatures – Parliament and Assemblies.

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