Caste-based census! A necessity or political contrivance?

Image Source: ANI

The clamour for the caste-based census is growing across the political spectrum in the country, and more and more regional parties are joining it. A demand ignited by Bihar based parties like RJD and JDU is seen engulfing other parties too. An 11 member all-party delegation from Bihar led by CM Nitish Kumar discussed with the Prime Minister and urged the centre to carry out the caste-based census in India.

OBC leaders in Haryana have upped their demand for a caste-based census seeking proportional representation for their castes in government institutions, and are slated, to hold a ‘Mahapanchayat’ on 29 August 2021 at Meham.

Congress, which saw diminish in its fortune due to Mandal Commission, has joined the bandwagon to ally with the demand of other opposition parties. Constitutionally, the 50 per cent cap has already been transgressed in some states. The introduction of the EWS quota at the centre underlined one of its leaders while extending support for the caste-based census. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) also echoed the demand for a caste-based census and asked the centre to abolish the 50 per cent reservation cap. BJD indicated taking to the streets if its demand, for the caste-based is not met.

Political parties cite the reason to gauge the impact of social justice measures like a reservation. The recently passed constitutionally 127th amendment bill has powered the states to enlist their own OBC group. The centre, on the other hand, stated in the Parliament that enumeration of castes would not be taken other than STs and SCs, due to policy matters. When Rajnath Singh was the Home Minister of India in 201, he accepted to include caste in the census.

In India, the census is carried out once in a decade, and it counts the population of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) other than religions, languages, socio-economic status and others. It does not include OBC.

The last caste-based census was carried out by the Britishers in 1931 and since then OBCs data has not been taken. The Britishers’ census found the population of the OBCs in India to be 52%. The 1931 OBC data remained the standard data for all the governments up to now.

One of the outcomes of such a caste-based census would be breaching the reservation barrier set up by the Supreme Court of India. More and more caste would start vying for quotas. Regional and caste-based parties will exert influence on particular caste and nurse them as their vote bank. These regional parties rely on a particular caste for their electoral success in elections, and hence the demand is the largest from such parties.

Mandal Commission bred a gamut of regional parties which subsequently projected themselves as the champion of social justice. They owed their survival to a specific caste. To surmise, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janta Dal developed Yadav as its vote bank. Nitish Kumar represents Kurmi.

Affirmative action in India is based on caste. The National Front government headed by VP Singh implemented the Mandal commission at a time when India was a closed economy. There were few opportunities outside the public institutions for education and jobs. VP Singh’s move was necessitated by the need to recover the political space usurped by the OBC leaders of the UP and Bihar and thwart the growing clout of the Hindutva. Singh’s action was more of political contrivance.

Caste calculus plays an important role in the electoral politics of India whereas, the ruling party BJP is said to have been striving to develop its base even amongst the subaltern caste hitherto backing the regional parties. The growing acceptance of the BJP amongst the OBC has caused consternation, to the regional caste centric political parties, of losing their grip on a particular caste.

The caste-based census can renew resistance for the BJP. Regional parties can once again group; to pose a challenge to the BJP by reviving the old ‘Mandal Vs Kamaldal’ narrative. A taste of this was tasted by the BJP in Bihar in the 2015 Assembly Election when Lalu Yadav successfully turned the contest into ‘Mandal Vs Kamaldal.’

Caste-based politics is intrinsic to the Hindi heartland, where OBCs are speculated to be around 52-55% of the total population. Caste identities would become more prominent and cause fissure within the country when it is grappling with the worst unemployment. Reservation continues to be the bone of contention for the general group who allege missing out on opportunities to the reserved group.

If the BJP concedes, it will lose its traditional stronghold of the middle class and upper castes. Elections in the largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh, are around the corner, and it’s for the BJP how it plays it out.