After the Supreme Court refused to entertain pleas against a caste survey in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday welcomed the court’s decision, saying that while some people were trying to stop the survey, they have been proven wrong. The Bihar government had issued a notification on June 6, 2022 to conduct a caste survey in the State.
Calling it a “publicity interest litigation”, the apex court questioned why the petitioners didn’t go to the Patna High Court in this matter. “So, this is a publicity interest litigation. How can we issue directions on how much reservation should be granted to such and such caste? Sorry, we can’t issue such directions and can’t entertain these petitions,” the Bench, comprising Justice B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath, said to the counsel for the petitioners.
As many as three petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the caste survey currently going on in the State. One petition was filed by a Bihar resident named Akhilesh Kumar; the second was by Ek Soch, Ek Prayas, a non-profit organisation; and the third was filed by right-wing Hindu outfit Hindu Sena.
Three petitions dismissed
Visibly happy with the Supreme Court refusing to entertain the petitions on caste survey, Mr. Kumar -- who is currently on a Samadhan Yatra (solution journey) across the State, told persons in Nalanda, “Today, the Supreme Court has refused the petitions on caste survey. Some people were trying to stop it but they have been proven wrong.”
The ongoing caste survey is gathering information on how many people live in each household, their castes, and their socio-economic condition. It will be done in two phases: the first from January 7 to January 21, and the second phase from April 1 to April 30. The survey will end on May 31, 2023 and its report is expected to be made public later. “The caste survey will be a detailed record on castes and communities in the State. It will help in their development,” the Chief Minister had said earlier.
‘Wll cause social disharmony’
Initially, all political parties, including the BJP, had supported the caste survey in the State and even had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to urge him to conduct a nationwide caste census as well. However, the BJP later disassociated itself from the demand for a caste survey, saying that it would cause social disharmony.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Bihar resident Akhilesh Kumar said that the “official notification and the process of caste survey are illegal, arbitrary, irrational, unconstitutional and without authority of law... The Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and caste. The state is under a constitutional obligation to eliminate caste and racial strife.” The Hindu Sena’s petition stated that “the Bihar government wants to break the integrity and unity of India by conducting a caste census.”
However, the Chief Minister has been reiterating that “it’s a caste survey and not the caste census going on in Bihar.”
Mandal vs Kamandal
Meanwhile, political analyst Ajay Kumar said that the caste survey is likely to be in favour of the ruling mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) parties as their vote bank comprises voters who mostly hail from backward, extremely backward, and Dalit communities. “As the survey report will figure out the exact number of people living under different caste groups, it will be a huge morale booster for Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad’s parties and their allies whose core vote bank comes from the backward, extremely backward and Dalit communities of society. The BJP is known as an upper caste party whose numerical strength in the state is not more than 14%,” he told The Hindu.
However, BJP leaders in the State said the situation had changed. “The BJP now has gone beyond its upper caste vote bank and has made signficant dents in the extremely backward class and backward class vote bank ,which was reflected in the two recently concluded byelection results in Gopalganj and Mokama,” said a senior State BJP leader.
“But in the Mandal (backward, extremely backward and Dalit communities) versus Kamandal (upper caste) contest, Mandal will have a significant electoral edge in Bihar and that is why a smile flashed on Nitish Kumar’s face today,” added Mr. Ajay Kumar.