BJP-RSS petrified of demand for conducting caste-based census as they may lose precious political currency
Regional parties like JD(U) are joining forces with opposition parties to try upstage BJP by attracting support of voters hailing from SC, ST, OBC communities who may benefit from a caste-based census
Narendra Modi is so smitten with the eulogy showered on him by sycophants and his bhakts of being the ‘strongest and most powerful politician India ever had’ that he prefers to roam around in his make-believe world ignoring the ground realities.
It is also an open secret that Modi nurses the perfidious traits of an autocrat and dislikes those who do not carry out his diktats.
But in a politically significant development, he has been rebuffed by the chief of his party’s alliance partner in Bihar, Nitish Kumar.
Although they have been strange bed fellows, Modi and Nitish have maintained the façade of being friends in public eyes. This has now got shattered following the selection of the candidates for the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls.
PM Modi had asked Nitish to re-nominate RCP Singh, a senior JD(U) leader and once a close confidant of Nitish, who was in 2021 inducted by him into the Union Cabinet in a move which had raised eyebrows in political circles.
Nitish, however, has not endorsed Singh’s name, which, in Modi’s eyes, constitutes an unforgivable transgression.
The denial of a RS ticket to Singh has wider implication. With Modi’s blessings, Singh had started creating his own independent space in Bihar politics. It is worth mentioning that he was also responsible for the straining of ties between election strategist Prashant Kishor and Nitish Kumar.
In what is being described as a master stroke, Nitish has, instead, nominated Jharkhand state JD(U) president and former MLA Khiru Mahto as the party’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls, which too has sent shock waves in the BJP.
No BJP leader worth his salt had expected Nitish to go against Modi’s wishes. While it has widened the chasm between Nitish and Modi, it has also sent a message that Nitish is indeed exploring the possibility of getting closer to the state’s opposition parties.
It may be recalled that in 2021, Nitish had insisted on four ministerial berths — two Cabinet ministers and two ministers of state – for his party, but finally accepted only one berth for the JD(U) in the Modi cabinet.
It was evidently perceived by Nitish as a bid to cut down his political stature by Modi even though at the time, he did not join issues with the PM. Now, with the biennial Rajya Sabha polls looming, it appears that he has decided to assert himself and challenge Modi.
MEANWHILE, in a significant development, Lalu Yadav has decided to throw his weight behind Nitish Kumar, and they will come on a common platform when they attend an all-party meet to be held on June 1 on the issue of conducting of a caste-based census.
Lately, opposition parties have been making moves to band together to challenge the BJP, with the latest such occasion being an event hosted by Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan to commemorate the 35th death anniversary of former Prime Minister and farmers’ leader Charan Singh.
At the initiative of Nitish and Lalu Yadav, opposition parties across the country have been mounting pressure on the Modi government to conduct a nationwide caste census. The RLD-led meeting also adopted a resolution, saying, “The last caste census in India was done in 1931 and all government policies are framed according to the numbers enumerated back then. Therefore, it is imperative for us to implement a caste census immediately to inform data-driven decision-making as is the case in almost all spheres of our life whether in medicine, sciences or business”.
Significantly, the RLD sponsored meeting was attended by leaders of JD(U), Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI(M), Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) and the Tripura-based TIPRA Motha.
At the meeting, the opposition parties also demanded the setting up of a ‘Social Justice Commission’ or an ‘Equal Opportunities Commission’ to analyse the data thrown up by a caste census to ensure adequate representation for women, SC, ST, OBC, minorities and rural-based weaker sections.
The RSS and BJP are apprehensive that any such move will resurrect ‘Mandal and Kamandal’ politics in the country at the BJP’s cost, splitting the Hindu community vertically and squandering away the support base gathered during Modi’s eight years at the helm of the country.
The Modi government had informed the Supreme Court in 2021 that such an exercise would not be feasible in Bihar, though this does not stop state governments from carrying it out in their territory.
In Bihar, in particular, the BJP cannot skirt around the issue since any opposition by it to the move may invite an electoral backlash. It will, then, have to go along with Nitish’s decision, if and when it is made.
On his part, Nitish is firm on holding the all-party meeting to press the demand for implementation of a caste-based census. He went on record to say, “We will call an all-party meeting to know their views on caste-based census and have spoken to some parties to conduct the meeting. The proposal of all-party meeting will go to the state cabinet meeting and then we will start work on conducting caste-based census.”
The RJD’s exigency to identify with the aspirations of the Dalits and extreme backward caste people was recently highlighted by its decision to nominate a washerwoman from Bihar Sharif to contest the Legislative Council election.
There are two primary reasons behind the opposition parties’ decision to press for a caste-based survey. Of course, the first is the need to defeat the designs of the RSS and BJP to keep SCs and STs on their side by citing a common religion. The regional parties hold the view that the Sangh was not at all sincere to the cause of this section and was exploiting them. The second reason is to prevent the backward and Dalit youths from turning into religious mercenaries.
Though Narendra Modi and Amit Shah claim that a majority of the Dalits and OBCs support the BJP, the fact remains that the party still depends on the support of upper caste Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and Banias for scripting electoral success.
The leaders of regional parties also strongly nurse the feeling that Modi and RSS don’t pay them the recognition and honour they deserve. Even the state governments run by these parties are denied their share of resources.
A CASTE CENSUS will underscore the exact numbers of different castes as well as reveal the exact number of the disadvantaged segments living at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This may well rock the saffron boat and expose them in the eyes of the poor people.
Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav are both acutely aware of the fact that by refusing to go along with the caste census in Bihar, RSS and BJP would be painted as being opposed to Dalits and OBCs.
It is worth mentioning that the demand has gained more urgency after the BJP managed to retain power in UP. The party has been desperately trying to win over non-dominant Dalits and non-dominant OBCs. The election results also portrayed that the BJP is trying to diversify its social base. A caste census would simply jeopardise its electoral cause.
It is wrong to construe that a caste census is not peripheral to governance. All the government policies and programmes are framed keeping in mind the electoral relevance of the castes notwithstanding the fact that most governments strive to promote the vested interests of the capitalists, rich and upper caste people.
There is no doubt that a caste census would make the members of these castes more conscious of their social and economic status, their relevance in the electoral politics of the country and the political ideology they should pursue and practice.
This would expose the claims of the Modi government regarding efforts it claims to be making to empower the proletariat, Dalits and OBCs.
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Published: 31 May 2022, 7:43 PM