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Bihar All-Party Meet on June 1 to Consider Caste Census

Bihar All-Party Meet on June 1 to Consider Caste Census

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 27: The BJP is learnt to have finally agreed to come on-board for the proposed caste census in Bihar despite the reluctance of the party’s national leadership for any such move fearing disfavour from the upper caste voters who solidly back the saffron brigade, particularly in the Hindi belt in the country.

The chief minister Nitish Kumar has finally fixed June 1 for the all-party meeting on the state-wide caste census to learn the views of different parties on the issue before a resolution was tabled in the state Assembly.

The Bihar Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary announced that the meeting would be held on June 1 and the BJP, which was earlier opposed to the idea, would also attend the meeting. Nitish Kumar had on Monday hinted that an all-party meeting to take everyone’s views on a caste-based census could be convened on May 27, if all parties agreed to the proposed date.

Ahead of the proposed meeting of the 10 parties, a consensus has also started emerging that the caste-based census and the benefits of the backward castes should be extended to the Muslims as well. All the leading parties in Bihar on Friday said they supported the inclusion of castes in the Muslim community in the state’s proposed caste census.

The national spokesperson of the ruling Janata Dal (United) K C Tyagi pointed out that the Mandal Commission had “duly identified OBCs among Muslims.” He said, “Let the caste census or survey count all castes and clear claims and counter-claims regarding numbers of each caste group for once and all.” Tyagi added that though there could be questions on the Constitutional validity of such a survey, the state government could use the data in its list for job reservations.

The state BJP, which has seen some of its central leaders differ on the issue, also backed the idea. Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal said, “Castes among Muslims should be counted as well. When you are giving OBC (Other Backward Classes) and EBC (Extremely Backward Class) reservations (to Muslims), then it should be justified by their numbers as well.”

Another senior BJP leader wanted that the census should try to find out the socio-economic status of the citizens as well. He said the caste survey should be done along the lines of the “Samagra Kutumb Survey” conducted in Telangana in which questions were asked on families’ socio-economic status rather than just their caste and numbers.

Jamui MP and Lok Janata Party (Ram Vilas) chief Chirag Paswan said, “We mooted the idea of counting castes among Muslims and other minority groups as we have a federal structure and there are state and central lists. Unless we know the exact number of beneficiaries in a caste group, the benefits of reservation and welfare schemes will not reach them. Now that we are meeting to have our own caste census, let us count them all — castes and sub-castes, irrespective of their religion.”

Asked if the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) also wanted Muslims to be counted en bloc or caste wise, the party’s national spokesperson Subodh Kumar said, “There is no question of any objection to counting castes among Muslims. Caste has been the biggest socio-economic determinant. We are very much in favour of counting castes and sub-castes among Muslims as well. The Mandal Commission and the Sachar Committee already discussed it and several castes from Muslims have been in central and state lists.”

Concurring with the other parties, Congress spokesperson Kuntal Krishna said, “Castes among Muslims should be counted. Why exclude anyone?” Last year, 17 Muslim organisations under the umbrella of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM) had demanded a caste census for minority communities. The umbrella group works for the rights of OBC Muslims. On Friday, former JD(U) MP and AIPMM head Ali Anwar said, “We were the ones who had objected to the RJD and four of its allies talking about counting castes among Hindus. Soon after our objection a few months ago, RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav removed the word ‘Hindu’ and supported the idea of a comprehensive caste census that includes Muslims as well.”

Nitish Kumar had noted that the caste-based census would enable the government to work for the development of various sections of society, a view that differ from its alliance partner in the state, the BJP. The BJP government at the centre has long stated that a caste-based census was a divisive exercise. It had told the Supreme Court last year that a caste census of the Backward Classes is “administratively difficult and cumbersome.” But Bihar political parties argue that knowing the caste constitution of the population will lead to better policies to help the most neglected in society.

 

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