BJP plans OBC survey to blunt Opposition’s caste census campaign | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

BJP plans OBC survey to blunt Opposition’s caste census campaign

By, New Delhi
Nov 09, 2023 01:14 PM IST

The BJP has changed its strategy – from avoiding the topic altogether, to an endorsement of the survey

Union home minister Amit Shah’s comments on the caste census in Muzaffarpur, Bihar on Sunday, were part of a carefully choreographed campaign to counter what the Opposition believes is its most potent weapon against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024.

The BJP's central election committee decided on November 1 that the party would announce an Other Backward Classes (OBC) survey(PTI)
The BJP's central election committee decided on November 1 that the party would announce an Other Backward Classes (OBC) survey(PTI)

They seemed to mark a change in the party’s strategy -- from avoiding the topic altogether, to an endorsement of the survey. HT learns that in a November 1 meeting of the party’s central election committee -- a body that is helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also has Shah and party president JP Nadda as its members -- it was decided that the BJP would announce an other backward classes (OBC) survey to blunt the possible impact of any Opposition campaign on the issue. This was then firmed up at a high-level meeting on OBC outreach the very next day. The modalities are yet to be worked out, but an exercise to the effect could be announced by the Union government shortly, people aware of the matter said.

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Also Read: Bihar survey exposes disparities among OBCs

“The Congress keeps on parroting the promise of a caste census with the sole aim of dividing the Hindu vote,’’ said a senior BJP leader who asked not to be named. “We will blunt that strategy by announcing an OBC survey too. They will only make an issue out of it if we are seen to be opposed to it. if we all agree and we also promise a survey, then they won’t divide the Hindu vote.’’

To be sure, the BJP has pointed out that it was part of the government in Bihar when the caste survey was announced. On Tuesday, it supported chief minister Nitish Kumar’s move to increase reservation in the state to 75%.

Following the meeting of the central election committee, Shah first raised the issue at a press conference in Raipur, Chhattisgarh: “We don’t practice politics of appeasement for votes. We will take an appropriate decision (on caste census) after holding discussions (within the party). The BJP never opposed a caste census but decisions have to be taken after giving it a lot of thought.”

Also Read: Telangana to get its first OBC chief minister if BJP is voted to power, says PM

He reiterated this at a public meeting in Bihar: “They (the Grand Alliance) have been trying to pass themselves off as champions of OBCs with this report. But Nitish Kumar should remember that when the decision to conduct the caste survey was made, the BJP was part of the state government…The survey inflated the numbers of Muslims and Yadavs, while the number of EBCs (Extremely Backward Classes) was deflated. It was done under pressure from Lalu Prasad (of the RJD).’’

BJP insiders point out how Shah’s words show how the BJP has pivoted on the issue in the past month. In the first response to the survey, headline data from which was announced by Kumar on October 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticised it. “I was wondering what the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be thinking. He used to say that the minority, particularly Muslims, has the first right to the country’s resources... But now Congress is saying that the population of the community will decide who will have the first right to the country’s resources. So now do they (Congress) want to decrease the rights of the minority?,” he said on October 3 in Chhattisgarh.

The switch is a calculated risk by the BJP which has built a strong electoral base comprising forward castes that have traditionally supported it, as well as less-dominant backward classes, and scheduled castes and tribes. This coalition has made it almost invincible in the Hindi heartland of India. “We don’t want to disturb our forward caste voters but at the Wednesday meeting, it was felt that they had been taken care of by the 10% quota we announced for economically weaker sections. So, we couldn’t let the Opposition monopolise this issue; we would voice our support,’’ said the senior BJP leader quoted above.

Also Read: BJP to expand OBC cadre to counter oppn pitch for caste census

In Telangana, where backward castes and Dalits make up more than 70%, the BJP has already announced that if it wins, it will have an OBC chief minister. Union minister and state in charge Kishan Reddy said that his party has already shown its resolve with the CM promise. “We are channelling the aspirations of 52% of the state’s population and giving them a voice and a platform to realise their social, economic and political goals. Prime Minister Modi is India’s first OBC Prime Minister, (his) union council of ministers is one of the most diverse, so the BJP has the credibility and the resolve to deliver on its promise.”

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has sent its Union minister of state SP Baghel who was inducted as one of the new OBC faces in the last cabinet reshuffle, to strengthen its campaign. Baghel, who hails from Agra, told HT that he was doing non-stop meetings in Madhya Pradesh.

When asked about BJP’s change of strategy, the head of the OBC wing and CEC member K Laxman said that while the Opposition was raising the issue of a “ caste census just for votes”, the BJP “never opposed it”. The party would discuss it and “once that is done, we will put forth our ideas,” he said.

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    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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