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PM Modi non-committal on Bihar team’s demand for caste census

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, HAM President Jitan Ram Manjhi and other leaders after a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over caste-based census at South Block in New Delhi, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar along with a delegation of leaders from ten parties from the State, including RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and BJP representatives, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to press for a caste census. Mr. Modi, it is learnt, has not given any assurances, though the meeting was described as positive.

So far the BJP has walked a tightrope on the issue, with leaders from Bihar speaking in favour of a caste census while the party leadership at the Centre has kept mum. The wider implication of such a census on the party’s carefully crafted OBC bloc in U.P. has kept it on tenterhooks.

Sources said the Prime Minister did not counter the delegation nor did he express the Centre’s inability to carry out such an exercise.

 

‘Historic opportunity’

Given that the last caste census was done in 1931, the delegation argued that it would be a historic step, if the Prime Minister was to hold a census now. At the end of the meeting after listening to each member of the delegation, Mr Modi, as per sources, said he will get the issue thoroughly examined.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Kumar said all parties spoke in one voice. “It is up to the Prime Minister and the Union government to decide. We explained our stand and he sincerely heard us out,” he said.

He also said that the fear that a caste census will bring a return of the Mandal days with widespread protests and chaos, is misplaced. “Every person no matter which caste or religion he is from wants the caste census to take place. Once we have the caste data, then we can formulate policies for upliftment of each and every caste,” the Chief Minister said.

Mr. Tejashwi Yadav, who was part of the delegation said that if the animals and trees can be counted so can people. “The caste census is in national interest. It will help the poor and deprived sections of the society.”

Rare collaboration

The caste census has seen a rare coming together of Mr Yadav and Mr Kumar despite their bitter against each other during the Assembly polls of 2020.

When asked if this collaboration will extend beyond the caste census issue, Mr Kumar said the Opposition in Bihar has always supported the government over pro-people measures and those in national interest.

Mr Kumar and Mr Yadav said Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai’s reply in Rajya Sabha saying emphatically that there was no proposal for releasing caste based population data triggered unrest among people.

The BJP’s Janak Ram, who was part of the delegation, said Mr. Modi heard out everyone’s view like the “guardian of a family”. Everyone was “satisfied” and the Prime Minister's decision will be acceptable to all, he added.

Congress MLA Ajit Sharma, who also attended the meeting, said that the caste census will remove the current hostility about reservation. “The census is essential to identify the creamy layer who have been cornering the reservation benefits so far which irks the forward caste,” Mr. Sharma said.

The recent narrative on caste census built up by the Bihar parties could impact the U.P. elections. A senior leader who was part of the delegation, said that when every political party in the country is demanding a caste census and with BJP themselves claiming that they are not against it, the Centre will be hard put to delay it.

“The OBC community in every State is getting restive. They feel that their population which is more than 55%, is not getting the benefits that they deserve. The reservation somehow is only applicable to class four posts. There is not a single secretary in any of the ministries here in Delhi who is from the OBC community,” JD (U) leader K.C. Tyagi said.

Former Deputy CM of Bihar and Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi, ahead of Monday's meeting in a series of tweets, had said, “BJP has never been against caste census; that’s why we supported the resolution passed in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council on this issue. BJP is also included in the delegation of Bihar to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”


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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 10:01:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nitish-kumar-tejashwi-yadav-meet-pm-modi-to-push-for-caste-census/article36058856.ece

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