INDIA gives a shot in the arm to SP’s caste census demand
Since the formation of INDIA, the Congress’ pitch for the caste census is also getting louder. The RLD had not taken a stand on the issue, but it now supports the demand along with Apna Dal (K)
LUCKNOW ‘Jaatiya janganana karaye sarkar’; ‘jaatiya janganana karao, arakshan badhao…’ These are catch lines of two political parties at different events in Uttar Pradesh on July 23, and both convey the demand for a caste census.
The first banner was at the conference organised by the Samajwadi Party’s Backward Classes cell in Lucknow and the second at a similar conference in Bundelkhand’s Jalaun district by the UP Congress’ Backward Classes cell.
Both parties are now part of the INDIA pre-poll coalition of opposition parties for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The two conferences were organised soon after the 26-party alliance to challenge the ruling NDA was announced on July 18.
In Uttar Pradesh, caste census had been an old demand of the SP for over two decades. Party founder late Mulayam Singh Yadav had initiated the demand in the state, and since 2014, his son Akhilesh Yadav (SP chief) adopted it. When Akhilesh led the party into the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2022 UP assembly polls, the demand figured among the top poll promises in the SP’s manifesto. And it has become the main campaign theme of the party in the run-up to the 2024 LS polls.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has launched a series of intermittent rath yatras and the tagline on the rath (a plush bus) - ‘Samajik Nyay; Jaatiya Janganana Rasta (Caste census is the path to social justice)’ - is boldly printed on all sides of the red bus that Akhilesh rides. He embarked upon a yatra each in Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur and more are likely soon.
“Whenever the Samajwadis get a chance, we will get the caste census done. Till the time we are out of government, we will continue to tell the government that social justice without caste census is not possible,” Akhilesh Yadav said in Sitapur during the yatra on June 10.
The caste census idea that the SP has been talking about for many years is primarily aimed at OBCs (other backward classes) — the single-largest section of voters in U.P. Both the BJP and the SP are vying to win the support of this section.
While the BJP has been non-committal on the caste census, the SP has demanded and promised it.
“Imagine, the country is still following the caste data from the pre-independence era when India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were one entity. Uttar Pradesh has 79 OBCs, and according to 1931 caste-wise census, they are 52% of the total population. Now, the OBCs may have easily surpassed 60% of the total population, but are getting only 27% of reservations based on 1931 data. That is why we want caste census so that different castes get benefits as per their share in the population,” said Rajpal Kashyap, state president of the Samajwadi Backward Classes cell.
Since the formation of INDIA, the Congress’ pitch for the caste census is also getting louder. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), an ally of the SP in the 2022 UP assembly polls, had not taken a stand on the caste census demand. But now, it supports the demand along with another SP ally - Apna Dal (K).
As SP, Congress, RLD and Apna Dal (K) have become part of the INDIA coalition of opposition parties, SP’s caste census has become an even bigger issue in UP.
On the day of its formation, INDIA also adopted caste census as an issue in its ‘Samuhik Sankalp’ giving a boost to the issue in UP.
UP Congress president Brijlal Khabari said: “We support the caste census. The Congress-led UPA government in 2011 had carried out a caste-based census, but the BJP government on coming to power in 2014 never published the survey findings. This is despite the BJP demanding caste census before 2014.”
Observers feel the BJP-led NDA government developed cold feet on caste census and maintains status quo fearing that the census might lead to a tricky situation that was witnessed when the Mandal Commission report was implemented in 1990 and that the caste census might also harm the BJP’s goal of ‘uniting and mobilising Hindus’.
Therefore, the BJP keeps mum on the issue. Only once, early this year, UP deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya supported the caste census demand but backtracked a week later, by claiming that the demand for caste census would seem a farce until SP chief Akhilesh Yadav appointed someone other than himself as the party chief.
“The demand for caste census has several layers to it and several issues are interlocked within the demand,” a UP BJP leader said.
In its ‘Dhanyawad Modi’ meets held by the OBC wing, BJP leaders had made the community aware of not buying the opposition argument of BJP being anti-backwards and had listed several initiatives as proof. Interestingly, while BJP is non-committal, its OBC allies like Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party chief OP Rajbhar are supportive of the caste census demand.
“We are hopeful that it will be fulfilled, but we won’t push for it as of now,” Rajbhar said, adding: “Earlier, India’s politics were Krishi Pradhan, but now it is Jaati Pradhan (Indian politics has turned caste based from farm based). Political analyst and the retired head of department (political science), Lucknow University, Prof SK Dwivedi said: “The reality of Indian politics is it revolves around caste and religion, instead of the real issues. The SP and its allies apparently intend to overshadow the ‘religion’ with ‘caste’.”
RLD leader and spokesperson Anil Dubey said: “Of course, we are all for the caste census, but the BJP government is against it.”
The Bihar government, led by chief minister Nitish Kumar launched the process for caste-based survey in the state in January this year. But while the survey is on, the Patna high court stayed it on May 4.
A senior SP leader said INDIA coalition has adopted the caste census issue, and it is certain that the caste census may also find its way into INDIA’s common minimum programme (CMP) for the 2024 LS polls.
Both the SP and the Congress use a common slogan for the caste census demand - ‘Jitni jiski sankhya bhaari, utni uski hisseydaari’ (share in benefits as per their numbers in the population).