A way out seems to have opened up for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was caught between its own stand in Parliament favouring a caste-based census and that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which had come out strongly against the proposal.
With four days to go before the BJP leadership responds to the government's query on its stand — which it wants from the party in writing — it seems the RSS may not, after all, stand in the BJP's way of its favouring a caste-based census.
At a meeting of Sangh Parivar associations chaired by the RSS two days ago, members from different Sangh affiliates expressed their views in some detail on the caste question. The meeting was of its cultural department — and it was decided that there might be no harm done if an “all-caste census” was undertaken.
Strong views, however, were expressed against counting the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), in addition to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
‘Not in larger interest'
Among those who attended the meeting from the BJP were Thawarchand Gehlot, Sumitra Mahajan and Raghunandan Sharma.
“The view that emerged from this meeting was that the RSS and its affiliates were against dividing Hindu society into ‘backward castes' and ‘forward castes' and putting them one against the other. It was felt this would not be in the larger interest of the country. However, if a caste-based census is at all to take place, it should be based on all castes,” Mr. Sharma told The Hindu.
On Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the issue was flagged at the parliamentary party meeting that morning.
“Both Sumitra Mahajan and Raghunandan Sharma informed the parliamentary party that the RSS-led meeting did not favour an OBC-based census, but had no problem with a caste-based census [meaning all castes].”
Ms. Swaraj clarified that since the States had their lists of backward castes, the data for OBCs could easily be gathered from the all-caste-based census. Her observations were in line with the view taken at the RSS-chaired meeting.
Ms. Swaraj added that she found the wording of the government query obtuse. “We have been asked whether caste should be canvassed during the ongoing census/national population register exercise, and if the answer is ‘yes,' should caste be canvassed in a manner that does not affect the integrity of the head count,” she said.
Clearly there has been some re-thinking on the part of the RSS. For, soon after the matter came up during the Budget session, RSS general secretary Suresh Joshi stated on April 22: “The demand for a caste-based census is against the views of founders of the Constitution like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and it would weaken the goal of social harmony and unity…The RSS has from the beginning worked for social unity and against encouragement to caste-based identities. A different set of guidelines [other than the census] should be found for justifying reservations for other backward classes.”