United Over Caste Census, Rivals Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav Meet PM

Bihar political parties have been united in calling for a caste census, but for the BJP this is a tricky subject given the state agenda is at odds with the national view

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav met PM Modi today

Highlights

  • The cross-party delegation was led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
  • All parties in Bihar have called for a caste census
  • The last time a caste-based count took place was in 1931
New Delhi:

A cross-party delegation led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi this morning to discuss the conduct of a caste-based census (in the state and across the country) and called on him to take "the appropriate decision".

Members included RJD chief and Leader of the Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav; the BJP's Janak Ram, a state minister; Congress leader Ajeet Sharma and those from Left parties; and Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Chief Minister and President of the Hindustani Awam Morcha.

"People in Bihar and the entire country are of the same opinion on this issue. We are grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to us. We urge him to take an appropriate decision," Nitish Kumar said after the meeting.

He also said the delegation had reminded the Prime Minister that the Bihar Assembly has twice passed resolutions on holding a caste-based census.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav - who spearheaded an all-out attack on Nitish Kumar and the BJP-JDU alliance ahead of last year's state election - said "we are awaiting a decision now".

"Our delegation met the Prime Minister today not only for caste census in the state... but in the entire country. If animals and trees can be counted, so can people... a caste census will be a historic, pro-poor measure," he said, according to news agency PTI.

He also said that the delegation had told the Prime Minister that if the centre feared a caste-based census would lead to tension, collecting information on religion should also be avoided.

During the meeting Nitish Kumar explained to the Prime Minister, in detail, every issue associated with the caste-based census. He also acknowledged the fact he had been urged to take the lead on this issue by an united opposition.

Also during the meeting, opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav underlined what he felt were benefits to the nation by holding a caste-based census. He pointed out that 'religion' and 'SC/ST' were already listed in census forms, and that only an extra column for caste needed to be inserted.

An interesting point during the meeting was that the BJP's Janak Ram also spoke up in favour of the caste-based census, and urged the Prime Minister to consider the demand.

Bihar political parties have been united in calling for a caste census. For the BJP, however, this is a politically tricky subject given that the state agenda in Bihar is at odds with the national view.

The central government has long held that a caste-based assessment could deepen divides.

Nitish Kumar insists it will only lead to better policies to help neglected sections of the society.

"Caste-based census would be not just for Bihar... people in the whole country will benefit from this," the Bihar Chief Minister told reporters yesterday on his arrival in Delhi.

Before today's meeting with the Prime Minister, BJP leader Sushil Modi - who was Nitish Kumar's deputy for several years - said his party was not averse to such an exercise.

"The BJP was never against caste-based census, we have also been part of resolutions passed in the legislative assembly and council in its support. The delegation that will meet PM Modi also includes a BJP representative," he wrote in a series of posts on Sunday.

His comments betrayed the ruling BJP's tightrope walk on the subject - weeks earlier the centre told Parliament it had decided not to carry out a caste-based count as a matter of policy.

On July 20, junior Home Minister Nityanand Rai said: "The government has decided, as a matter of policy, not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the census."

The last time a caste-based count took place was in 1931. That was under British rule, and when Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were one entity.

After independence, leaders like BR Ambedkar argued a caste census would be inimical to an equitable society. Every census since has only counted Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

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