Other States

Nitish Kumar renews call for caste census in state; anxious BJP watches from sidelines 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar speaks to media persons after a meeting with senior leaders, in Patna.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar speaks to media persons after a meeting with senior leaders, in Patna. | Photo Credit: PTI

In yet another move that puts the BJP on the defensive, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said that his government would start work on caste-based census in the State and as a first step towards this, has called for an all-party meeting to be held on May 27. In October last year, in a submission to the Supreme Court, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had already ruled out the possibility of holding a nation-wide caste census.

“We will call an all-party meeting to know their views on caste-based census and have spoken to some parties to conduct the meeting on May 27 but still waiting for some of them to respond. The proposal of all-party meeting will go to the State cabinet meeting and then we will start work on conducting caste-based census”, Mr. Kumar said while speaking to media persons in Patna.

When Deputy Chief Minister Tarkishore Prasad, who was accompanying Mr. Kumar, was asked whether the BJP supported the idea, Mr. Prasad gave a non-committal reply. “We’ll discuss it and consider various aspects (of it),” he said.

A senior BJP leader said that the central government’s submission in the Supreme Court does not prohibit the State governments from carrying out the exercise. In Bihar, he said, that the party had very little room for manoeuvre if it did not go along with Mr. Kumar’s decision. It will stand isolated and will be branded as anti-backward party in the state, which could be electorally fatal.

Mr. Kumar has been trying to claw his way back to the top since the November 2020 setback in Bihar Assembly elections, where JD(U) with 43 seats got reduced to a junior partner of the BJP, which got 73 seats. BJP, which is banking on a unified Hindu vote, continues to be uneasy with Mr. Kumar’s reassertion on the caste census, which could fragment their vote bank.

JD(U)‘s Rajya Sabha nominee

Simultaneous to this sentiment of JD(U)‘s coldness towards the BJP, comes Mr. Kumar’s decision to punish Union Steel Minister R.C.P. Singh for his proximity with the BJP. Party insiders claim that Mr. Singh, without the nod from Bihar Chief Minister, had agreed to settle for the ‘symbolic’ one cabinet berth in July 2021 instead of the proportionate four that the party had demanded after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

At that time, Mr. Kumar did not speak anything about it.

However, now the Chief Minister is withholding the announcement of the name of the JD(U) candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections due in June. If Mr. Singh fails to return to the Upper House, he will have to resign from the cabinet, which would mark JD(U)‘s formal exit from the government at the Centre.

Next three days

Both these decisions are interconnected in Mr. Kumar’s bid to chart a fresh course for himself possibly away from BJP-led NDA. Importantly, sources in JD(U) said that the entire top leadership of the party has been instructed to remain in Patna for the next three-days. “There could be some major political decision taken by top party leadership or some political upheaval in the next 72-hours in the state. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” said a JD(U) MLA, requesting anonymity.

Also, the effort by Mr. Kumar over the last few weeks to bridge the distance between himself and the RJD has given the BJP anxious moments. Recently, he attended an Iftaar feast hosted by the leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav. Last week, Mr. Yadav also met Mr. Kumar on the issue of caste census.

In the debate on caste census, RJD and JD(U), both of whom have common roots in the social justice movement in the State, are thus natural allies.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 9:54:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nitish-kumar-renews-call-for-caste-census-in-state-anxious-bjp-watches-from-sidelines/article65454260.ece