Amid dissent from the BJP, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced to hold an all-party meeting to chalk out a strategy to conduct caste-based census in Bihar at its own level in the wake of the Narendra Modi Government at the Centre rejecting any such proposal, describing the entire process as “administratively difficult and cumbersome”.
The announcement came barely a week after the Bihar Opposition leader and RJD lawmaker Tejashwi Yadav held a closed-door meeting with the chief minister at the latter’s residence over the issue. But what was more surprising is that the chief minister revealed his plan on the sidelines of a religious event organised to observe 2566th Buddha Jayanti in Patna on Monday.
“I will soon convene a meeting of all political parties in the state to seek their opinions over the issue of conducting caste census. After completing the process, I will obtain the consent of the cabinet before the work could be started,” the chief minister told the media.
During the all-party meeting to be convened “very soon”, the chief minister added, they will discuss every issue related to the matter and how to conduct the caste census. According to him, government officials and employees will be engaged in properly conducting the caste census in the state. The chief minister has already told the media how the issue got delayed due to the Covid-19 infections and the subsequent assembly polls in the state.
Curiously, the BJP which is the key alliance partner in the ruling NDA government in the state has been opposing the caste census citing “technical reasons” and saying there are several other issues such as population control which merit immediate attention rather than the conducting the caste census.
“Caste census is not very important for Bihar. The Centre has already announced it is not possible,” Bihar agriculture minister and BJP leader Amarendra Pratp Singh had commented last week shortly after Tejashwi met the chief minister over the issue.
The state, the minister added, holds the right to conduct caste census at its own level. The Bihar Government too may go for it if the state needs so, but at the same time the state government must also know about difficulties (in completing the process). “The Opposition has the right to raise the issue but there is no requirement of it in Bihar. The state government will not run at the direction of Tejashwi Yadav,” the minister said, adding, “This is not the kind of issue due to which Bihar is drowning or the Earth is shaking.”
State BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal made similar comments saying no caste-based census was conducted in India. Moreover, the Prime Minister says there are only two “castes” in India — the rich and the poor. “For us, helping the poor remains the first priority,” Jaiswal said, adding Bihar government is free to act in this matter but before going ahead with the plan, the state government must also study the benefits of caste census conducted in Odisha, Telangana and Karnataka.
Despite the discordant notes from the BJP, the chief minister has declared to go ahead with its plan of conducting caste census which assumes much political significance since the announcement comes close on the heels of the Tejashwi Yadav, younger son of RJD president Lalu Prasad, meeting the former over the issue last week. Tejashwi stayed at the CM’s House for about 45 minutes during which he had a closed door meeting with the chief minister.
Last September, the Centre had made it clear in the Supreme Court that a caste census of the Backward Classes is “administratively difficult and cumbersome”. “The issue has been examined at length in the past at different points of time. Each time, the view has consistently been that the caste Census of Backward Classes is administratively difficult and cumbersome; it has suffered and will suffer both on account of completeness and accuracy of the data, as also evident from the infirmities of the SECC 2011 data, making it unusable for any official purposes and cannot be mentioned as a source of information for population data in any official document,” was how an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment put it.