Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Breaking with Centre, Bihar BJP backs Nitish Kumar on caste census

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Breaking ranks with the party on the issue of caste census, the Bihar unit of the BJP Wednesday joined all political parties of the state to unanimously decide in favour of a state caste census.

After an all-party meeting, Chief Minister and JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar said since the Centre has made it clear that a nationwide caste census cannot be done, the state has decided to conduct its own caste census.

“All nine parties unanimously decided to go ahead with the caste census. We will soon get it approved by the (state) Cabinet and allocate funds for the purpose. We will duly advertise the process and set a completion deadline,” he said.

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All Bihar parties including the BJP, he said, met the Prime Minister last year with a request to conduct a nationwide caste census.

“Now that the Centre has made it clear that a nationwide caste census cannot be done, we have decided to go ahead with the state census. There is complete unanimity on it,” he said.

From the BJP, state party president Sanjay Jaiswal and Deputy Chief Minister Tarkishore Prasad attended the meeting. The RJD was represented by Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha. AIMIM Bihar chief Akhtarul Iman too was present.

Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who had met the Chief Minister last month to discuss the issue, said: “We have long been demanding a caste census. A nationwide census would have been ideal. But we are satisfied that Bihar is conducting its own caste census.”

The JD (U), under pressure from the BJP, which is the larger coalition partner in the state, has been trying to highlight the “contradiction” between the BJP’s state and Central units on the issue of caste census.

A few months ago, Nityanand Rai, a senior BJP leader from Bihar and Minister of State for Home Affairs, told Parliament that the caste census could not be carried out.

The Centre has been pointing to what it calls the “problematic and erroneous” 2011 caste census. It maintains it is “impractical” to conduct such a census.

BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan has said the caste census alone cannot ensure social justice, and that the party has taken several steps to realise its goal of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. He said the BJP has set up a national panel on the OBCs and has ensured induction of 27 OBC ministers into the Modi government.

But the Bihar BJP does not want to create any impression that it is out to stall the caste census. It has been supporting this proposal from the very beginning. It was party to a resolution on the issue that Nitish Kumar brought before the Bihar House a few years ago and ensured its passage.

The Bihar BJP was also part of the state’s all-party delegation that met the Prime Minister last year to press for the caste census. It had sent minister Janak Ram to represent the party.

The state BJP does not want Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) to take political advantage from this issue. Senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi has been backing the caste census idea regularly through social media posts and articles. The BJP, he maintains, has always supported the idea within and outside the Assembly.

Asked about the “contradictions” between the state and Central BJP over the caste census, Jaiswal told The Indian Express recently, “Nothing happens in the BJP without the Centre’s will. They have seen how problematic the 2011 caste census was.”

The Bihar BJP believes Nitish Kumar is trying to keep it in check by pushing the caste census idea. With the lines of social justice getting blurred among parties, especially with the Centre introducing a quota for the economically weaker section (EWS), the Bihar BJP has been trying to blunt the edge the JD (U) thinks it possesses.

The JD(U), on its part, believes that differences in the BJP at the state and Central levels over the caste census strengthens a narrative that is likely to “expose the BJP’s idea of social justice”.

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