Sharp divisions within the Group of Ministers (GoM), which met on Thursday evening to discuss the question of enumeration of caste in Census 2011, ended in a decision to consult other political parties before going any further, even though it had been asked to settle the issue “expeditiously.”
The GoM, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, decided to ask the other political parties to give their views within four weeks.
After a heated 90-minute-long discussion in which Ministers spoke their mind, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal told journalists: “The Group of Ministers discussed threadbare the issues before it and decided to meet again...We will meet soon.”
Sources said when Defence Minister A.K. Antony raised questions about the advisability of including caste in the census, he found strong support from Mr. Sibal, who has been vociferously opposing it at successive meetings.
At that point, Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already made a commitment on the floor of Parliament to include caste enumeration in the Census.
Mr. Wasnik was backed by MoS for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid. Sources added that the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who has been uncomfortable from the start, expressed his reservations on a caste-based census, invoking the name of Nehru.
Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, a strong votary of a caste-based census, left halfway through the meeting as he had an appointment with the Prime Minister. Eventually, with no consensus emerging, the meeting, which was to decide the modalities of a caste-based census, ended in buying time.
The divisions within the Congress have been there from the start, but with all other political parties in Parliament backing it, the Congress had decided that it would be politically difficult not to go through with it. Parties like the SP, the RJD and the JD(U) are proponents and had disrupted proceedings of Parliament in the last Budget session. This had resulted in Dr. Singh's assurance to Parliament.