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OBC politics in for churn after SC nod for Bihar caste survey

As opposition steps up call for caste surveys, ruling BJP’s ambiguous stand on the issue may dent the party’s fortunes

Patna:  With the Supreme Court giving a go-ahead to the publication of Bihar caste survey data on Friday, Mandal politics is likely to witness a churning in the run-up to the 2024 general elections. With Bihar and other Opposition-ruled states playing on the front foot on caste surveys, the Modi government’s ambiguous stand on nationwide caste census may dent the party’s fortunes on Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Bihar’s caste census will have implications nationally and the Central government will have to clarify its stand, says Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha. A caste count is the need of the hour to collect scientific data of contemporary nature, and decide the quantum of reservation accordingly, he added.  The last caste census was done in 1931, which estimated the country’s OBC population at 52 per cent.

“We did it in Bihar and this is becoming part of the national application. The BJP has to break its silence on the issue. The Centre can delay the caste census out of fear of numbers, but it has to be done ultimately as the Constitution guarantees reservation,” he said.

“The last caste-based census in 1931 included present-day Bangladesh and Pakistan also. When the Mandal Commission recommendation was implemented, that quantum of reservation was settled for 27 per cent because there was a sealing of 50 per cent,” said Jha, adding that states like Odisha and Chhattisgarh have also kicked off caste surveys.

The tough posturing by Opposition parties is likely to put the Modi government in a spot as it has been dithering on the contentious issue of the caste-based census for identifying and enumerating the SEBC/OBCs, for a long time. While OBC votes have contributed some outstanding victories to the BJP in the last decade, the BJP’s retreat from the earlier position on caste census hasn’t gone down well with its allies in states like Uttar Pradesh and  Maharashtra. There is a feeling among the community that its  numerical strength must have grown manifold and is left behind in affirmative action.

More significantly, the Bihar government’s caste census to enumerate different castes will also lead to a realignment of castes beyond the state.

Though the Rohini Commission, which looked into the sub-categorization of OBCs, has submitted its report after 14 extensions, Jha points out that if the Rohini Commission proposals have to be implemented, a caste census needs to be done first.

“It defies logic. We still don’t have scientific data on the population of different castes. Even if the Rohini commission report is to be implemented, data is needed,” said Jha. According to a 2018 report, 37 percent of the 2,600 communities in the OBC central list have zero representation in jobs and institutes. It also shows that only 2.68 percent of reservation has been availed by 994 castes.

Speaking to this newspaper, DMK MP P Wilson said that state governments should be given the power to conduct a caste census in the state. Wilson had moved a private member’s bill in Parliament demanding the transfer of the subject of caste census from the concurrent list to the state list. “We shouldn’t be denying opportunities to the backward class.  Tamil Nadu was the first state to set up a Backward Commission. The 10 percent reservation to EWS was given without any survey. When it comes to other castes, they need empirical data,” he said.

While social justice has been the main plank of Congress in recently held Karnataka elections, former Karnataka Chief Minister Veerappa Moily told this paper that the state government will soon publish the caste survey, which was conducted by CM Siddaramaiah in 2014. “We will soon publish the 2014 data. It is in the process of publishing.  The survey has been done systematically. It is the cabinet to decide whether to update the data or not,” he said.

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