Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today said his government would soon start work on a caste census after taking the views of all parties, backing opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav's demand while lining up a new snub for ally BJP.
An all-party meet on a caste census is tentatively scheduled for May 27, he said.
"We will call an all-party meeting to take everyone's views on a caste-based census. Then the proposal will be presented before the state cabinet. We have spoken to some parties on conducting the meeting on 27 (May) but we are waiting for some parties to respond. After a final decision, the proposal will go to the cabinet and then we will start work," the chief minister told reporters.
"We have started talks with every party. Everyone is not on board. We are waiting for their response," Nitish Kumar said.
The Chief Minister acted reportedly after RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav threatened to seize the campaign with a march to Delhi. Nitish Kumar immediately met with him and reportedly shared a roadmap of a caste census in the state, charging ahead even though he knows it will annoy the BJP.
The RJD alleges it was that meeting which led to the CBI raids on their founder Lalu Yadav, and a fresh corruption case. The BJP wanted to send out a sharp message to Nitish Kumar - in case he planned to cozy up to the RJD -- and the raids appeared to be well-timed, the RJD claims.
Nitish Kumar's deputy, Tarkishor Prasad of the BJP, was noncommittal on whether the BJP agreed with Nitish Kumar on the caste census.
"We will discuss it and consider various aspects," Mr Prasad told reporters.
His cautious reply reflected the BJP's Catch-22 situation on an issue in which all Bihar parties - including the BJP's state unit -- seem to be on the same side, whether in power or in the opposition.
The ruling party is opposed to a caste census, in principle. The Centre has long stated that a caste-based census is a divisive exercise. But Bihar political parties argue that knowing the caste constitution of the population will lead to better policies to help the most neglected in the society.
Last year, a delegation of Bihar politicians, which included Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to press for a caste census.
On Friday, PM Modi, addressing a BJP meet, had warned against parties "trying to divide" the society in the name of caste or regionalism.
"For selfish reasons, certain political parties search for chhote mote tanaav (tension) within society and add poison to it and exploit those weaknesses by provoking people either in the name of caste or regionalism. It is essential for us to alert people against such people and parties," the Prime Minister had said.
The last caste-based count was held in 1931. That was under the British rule and when Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were one entity.