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Nitish takes calculated risk, calls all-party meet on caste census

The Bihar chief minister asked all his party legislators not to leave the state headquarters for the next 72 hours fuelling speculations in the political circles even as the ally BJP maintained a studied silence over the development.

Manoj Chaurasia | Patna |

Setting aside the widely-highlighted issue of CBI raids on Lalu Prasad family in a fresh corruption case, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar convened an all-party meeting on May 27 to seek to consult on conducting a caste census in the state even as the BJP has not been keen on the issue.

The development comes barely three days after the country’s premier investigating agency conducted raids on as many as 17 locations related to RJD chief Lalu Prasad in the alleged land-for-job scandal in the Indian Railways.

In what appears to be a new political equation taking shape in the state, the chief minister has also asked all his party legislators not to leave the state headquarters for the next 72 hours, fuelling speculations in the political circles. On the other hand, the BJP has maintained a studied silence over the development.

“We have begun talks with the political parties with regard to conducting caste census in the state and have even sent the proposal to them for a meeting over the issue on 27 May. Some have responded, some have not,” the chief minister told the media on the sidelines of a function on Monday.

The purpose of the meeting, he added, is to seek their (political parties’) opinions on how to accomplish the task in a proper manner.

Once a decision is taken at the meeting, the chief minister said it would be sent to the cabinet for approval before the work on it could be started. Almost all political parties except the ruling BJP do not seem to be very keen on the issue this time even though the state assembly unanimously passed resolutions to this effect twice in the past. The BJP’s logic is that there are several issues that merit more attention than this caste census.

Bihar’s deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Tarkishore Prasad told newsmen that they were debating the issue within the party and their decision would be communicated to the chief minister very soon. “We will discuss it and consider various aspects,” the Deputy CM added.

Yet, what has surprised the political experts is the alacrity with which the chief minister acted in this matter. Although he too has been seeking to conduct a caste census and even led an all-party delegation from his state to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this connection last year, he appears to have gone overboard shortly after his closed-door meeting with Opposition leader and RJD legislator Tejashwi Yadav earlier this month. Tejashwi currently is on a visit of London and is likely to arrive in Patna by tomorrow.

Political circles are abuzz with the stories that both the leaders have gone too far over the issue and there was no question of dragging their feet over the issue no matter how the BJP reacts to the proposal. Apparently, in the light of possible political developments, the chief minister is learned to have directed all his party legislators not to leave the state capital for the next 72 hours.

The JD-U led by the chief minister has 45 legislators while the RJD-led Grand Alliance has a total of 111 members in the 243-member state assembly. The number is enough to form a new government if the NDA-backed Nitish Kumar Government goes over the caste census issue.

The other story doing the rounds in political circles is that the CM’s move is aimed at preventing a split in the JD-U in the event of the Union minister RCP Singh not getting re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Informed sources said a section of the JD-U close to the chief minister is totally against the re-nomination of Singh, a lone minister from the JD-U quota, for his proximity to the BJP.

As per the report, some 15 JD-U legislators are considered to be close to Singh and they might quit the party in the event of RCP being denied the Rajya Sabha berth. Singh whose six-year tenure expires on July 7 requires an immediate RS berth to continue as a minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet.

Against this background, it is to be seen how the BJP reacts. The party has the numbers to send a maximum of two persons to the Upper House of the Parliament while the JD-U can send only one. The JD-U is yet to announce its candidate for the RS although the nomination process starts tomorrow and will continue till May 30. The elections will be held on 30 June.