Caste survey opens can of worms

| | Patna/New Delhi
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Caste survey opens can of worms

Tuesday, 03 October 2023 | Pioneer News Service | Patna/New Delhi

The Nitish Kumar-led Government in Bihar on Monday released findings of its long-awaited caste survey, disclosing that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) together make up a significant 63 per cent of the State’s entire population.

The first Caste Census was conducted during the British colonial era in 1872, with the last one taking place in 1931.

The data which could spur demands for similar caste-based census elsewhere is a key agenda of the Opposition INDIA bloc. And this could provide an advantage to Nitish and his alliance in the upcoming elections in the Hindi heartland, where caste-based politics holds significant sway.

The Congress, which is a major constituent of the Opposition grouping called INDIA, has welcomed the announcement while another Grand Alliance partner Lalu Prasad-led RJD has expressed satisfaction that their longstanding demand for a caste census has finally been fulfilled.

The Opposition BJP, however, voiced dissatisfaction with the caste survey, stressing that it did not give an idea of the “changed social and economic realities” over the years.

State BJP president Samrat Choudhary said his party had “given its consent” for the exercise and would make an assessment of the findings which have now been made public.

According to the data released here by Development Commissioner Vivek Singh, the State’s total population stood at a little over 13.07 crore, out of which the Extremely Backward Classes (36 per cent) were the largest social segment followed by the Other Backward Classes at 27.13 per cent.

Backward caste politicians have long claimed that the population of castes they represented numbered far more than the conventional wisdom based on the 1931 census, which was the last time a caste headcount was conducted and released.

The survey also stated that Yadavs, the OBC group to which Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav belongs, were the largest in terms of the population, accounting for 14.27 per cent of the total.

Dalits, also known as the Scheduled Castes, accounted for 19.65 per cent of the total population in the State, which is also home to nearly 22 lakh (1.68 per cent) people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes.

Those belonging to the “unreserved” category, which denotes the proverbial “upper castes” who dominated politics till the Mandal wave of the 1990s comprise 15.52 per cent of the total population.

Nitish said he will convene  a meeting of all the nine political parties with an electoral presence in the State legislature and the facts and figures will be shared with them.

RJD president Lalu Prasad said declaring the survey will set the tone for a nationwide caste census which will be undertaken if “We form the next Government at the Centre”.

Both the leaders have played an instrumental role in the formation of the INDIA bloc, which affirmed its commitment to holding a caste census at a meeting it held in Bengaluru recently.

The survey establishes that the State’s population is overwhelmingly Hindu, with the majority community comprising 81.99 per cent of the total population, followed by Muslims (17.70 per cent).

Christians, Sikhs, Jains and those following other religions as also the non-believers have a minuscule presence, together making up for less than one per cent of the total population.

The grand old party in recent months has pushed for caste census and announced if the Modi Government does not carry out a caste census, it will be conducted as soon as the Congress Government is formed so that every section can get their right.

Interestingly the Congress in 2010 felt, being a secular State, should “discourage community distinction”. The Group of Ministers headed by the then Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee decided that caste census is not advisable.

Before that first Prime Minister late Jawaharlal Nehru took a stand against caste census while late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi too followed the Nehru policy.

Another Congress stalwart and former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi had hit out at the VP Singh Government for implementing the Mandal Commission report on OBC reservations by saying it will divide the country.

The caste survey in Bihar was ordered last year after the Narendra Modi Government at the Centre made it clear that it would not be able to undertake a headcount of castes other than SCs and STs as part of the census.

The Bihar Government allocated Rs 500 crore for the survey and it briefly ran into rough weather when it was stayed by the Patna High Court which was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the exercise. However, the deadline it then set, of February 2023, was overshot and the survey itself could take off no sooner than January 7 this year.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the caste census of Bihar has proved that 84 per cent of people in the State are OBCs, SCs and STs and their share should be according to their population. “Out of 90 secretaries of the Central Government, only 3 are OBC, who handle only 5 per cent of India’s budget. Therefore, it is important to know the caste statistics of India...,” Rahul said in a social media post.

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