A day before a Nitish Kumar-led cross-party delegation from Bihar with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call for a caste-based census, BJP leader Sushil Modi said in tweets that his party is not averse to such an exercise. His comments betrayed the ruling BJP’s tough political tightrope on the subject, weeks after the government told parliament it had decided not to conduct a caste census as a matter of policy.
“BJP was never against caste-based census, we also participated in resolutions passed in the Legislative Assembly and Council in support. The delegation that will meet Prime Minister Modi will also include a BJP representative,” Sushil Modi wrote in a series of messages. on Sunday.
The former deputy to Nitish Kumar said in 2011 that the BJP’s Gopinath Munde had spoken out in parliament for a caste-based census. “When the then government conducted a social, economic and caste-based assessment, there were deficiencies in the data. The number of communities ran into the lakhs. That report was not made public because of the errors. It was not part of the Census.” said Mr Modi.
According to him, the last time a caste-based census took place in 1931, under British rule, when Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were one entity.
“At the time, out of about 1 crore people in Bihar, only people from 22 castes were counted. After 90 years, there are now major differences – economic, social, geographical and political. There are technical and practical problems in a caste-based census, but yet the BJP supports it in principle,” tweeted Mr Modi.
All parties in Bihar have called for a caste census, but for the BJP it is a politically difficult issue where the state agenda is at odds with the national vision.
The tweets of the former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister were seen to defend the BJP’s stance against the perception that the ruling party is cold to the idea and that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to wait too long for an appointment with the Prime Minister on the issue . The reports are also interpreted as a belated realization in the party that in the past it has proved very costly for them politically to “miss this bus” and even now this could easily work out in favor of Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav.
On July 20, in a written response to a question in parliament, Home Affairs Minister Nityanand Rai had said: “As a matter of policy, the Government of India has decided not to list caste-wise populations other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the census.”
Mr Modi tried to point out that the BJP is also part of today’s delegation – the party chairman Janak Ram, a minister of Bihar, will meet with Prime Minister Modi, along with Nitish Kumar, opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, congress leader Ajeet Sharma, left-wing leaders and former Chief Minister and President of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) Jitan Ram Manjhi.
After independence, leaders like BR Ambedkar had argued that a caste count would be contrary to a just society. Every census since 1947 has counted only registered castes and tribes.