A caste-based "count" rather than census will be held in Bihar to avoid any wrinkles, Nitish Kumar said today after an all-party meeting on a caste census this evening. The Chief Minister said all parties, including the BJP, agreed on a caste count.
"We will propose a caste-based count, not census, to avoid legal complications," Nitish Kumar told reporters.
All parties, he said, were on board with the suggestion, including the BJP, which has always expressed huge reservations over a caste-based census.
"To implement this a proposal will be passed in the state cabinet. The aim is that every section of the society can progress properly," Nitish Kumar said. The Bihar Chief Minister, in the meeting, reportedly spelled out a time-frame for the census, assuring parties of his government's resolve to proceed on the caste count. He did not elaborate but opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, seated next to him, hinted that the exercise could be carried out after festival season.
States like Karnataka, Odisha and Telangana have carried out similar counts in the name of a "socio-economic survey".
A national caste census took place when the Congress-led UPA was in power, but the data was not released on technical grounds. The BJP government refused to carry out a caste-based census but left it to states to go for a caste count.
After the Centre's refusal to take a headcount of any social group other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Nitish Kumar government offered to invest in a survey on its own.
Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United (JDU) and the BJP are alliance partners in Bihar. Nitish Kumar had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year to press for a caste-based census, heading an all-party delegation.
Most parties in Bihar, including the RJD, have called for a caste-based census, while the BJP has been caught between the demands of its Bihar unit and the central government's stand.
The Centre believes a caste-based census is a divisive exercise. But Bihar political parties - including state BJP leaders - argue that knowing the caste constitution of the population will lead to better, more focused policies for the most neglected in society.
The central government told the Supreme Court last year that a caste census of the Backward Classes is "administratively difficult and cumbersome".
The RJD says the last caste census in India took place in 1931 and all government policies are framed according to the data back then.