NEW DELHI: Impasse on the caste census, arising out of the Centre’s reluctance to undertake the exercise nationally, ended in Bihar on Wednesday after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar chaired an all-party meeting and agreed to conduct a state-specific survey.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, which had been hanging fire for several months, Kumar said the exercise will be given the name jaati adharit ganana’ (caste-based headcount), but clarified that it will be a survey much larger in scope as it will take into account people belonging to all religions and their socio-economic conditions.
The necessary cabinet clearance will be given soon and we will ensure that the work is completed fast by fixing a time limit, he said in presence of delegates of all parties.
Kumar underscored that there was unanimity among members of all parties on the issue, as had been evident earlier when unanimous resolutions favouring a caste census were passed by the state legislature in 2019 and 2020.
Responding to a query about the all-party meeting taking place nine months after a delegation from the state had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to press for the demand, Kumar allayed apprehensions about further delay.
The meeting had to be put off because of various reasons, including elections. But now, the wheels will move fast. We will soon be putting out advertisements and commence training of personnel, said the chief minister.
The caste census has become an emotive issue in Bihar where politics has been dominated by OBCs, whose last headcount was conducted during the British raj.
Kumar, who owes his own rise in no small measure to the Mandal uprising, had headed the all-party delegation that met the PM last year and, after the Centre expressed its inability to extend the census beyond Dalits and tribals.
He stressed that it was wrong to believe that the BJP, his ally in the state as well as the Centre, was opposed to a caste census, a charge repeatedly made by opposition parties like the RJD.
The Centre expressed its inability. It does not mean they (BJP) were opposed (to caste census) at any time. Their representatives accompanied us when we met the PM. You can see their representatives here, Kumar said.
The BJP was represented at the meeting, among others, by Deputy CM Tarkishor Prasad and state unit chief Sanjay Jaiswal.
The chief minister, who belongs to the JD(U), said the findings of the survey will be shared with political parties and the public from time to time, making use of all communication forums, including social media.
He, however, evaded questions about the mammoth exercise costing the impoverished state a bomb.
Kumar’s former deputy Tejashwi Yadav, who is currently the leader of the opposition and was present at the meeting as a representative of the RJD, was of the view that the state’s survey should get financial aid from the Centre.
I have shared my view at the meeting. The NDA has 39 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. The remaining one is with the Congress. In Rajya Sabha, we have presence and so do other parties from Bihar. We all may jointly raise the demand for central assistance, Yadav told reporters upon return to his residence.
The young leader exulted that the headway was a victory for his father Lalu Prasad, the RJD’s founding chief, whom he credited with having set the tone on the caste census issue.
He also said he would favour a cabinet clearance at the earliest though the exercise could be put on hold till the floods are over and, preferably, taken up around Chhath’ when migrants return to Bihar in droves.
Source: Press Trust of India