New Delhi, Aug 23
It is disquieting to note that the demand for caste census is gaining ground across the political spectrum. Even a large section of the ruling BJP appears to be batting for a caste census. Till recently, the Narendra Modi Government opposed it. The Congress-led UPA , when in power, was also not in favor of the exercise. What happened now that suddenly all parties are rushing for it?
The demand for caste census is being spearheaded by leaders of the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) which happens to be the biggest group and most influential politically in the country. They constitute the largest voting block in any election. No political party wants to annoy them for fear of reprisal at the hustings. This explains the rush of support for the demand.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met a delegation of Bihar OBC leaders led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday. Significantly, Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, was also in the delegation. That the PM agreed to give an audience to the delegation which had made its demand public indicates the seriousness with which the Government is looking at the issue.
With a string of important state elections coming early next year, including politically crucial UP and Punjab, the BJP has begun to woo the OBC voters in a big way. In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Modi inducted a good number of OBC members into his council of ministers. In order to curry favor with the OBC group, the Congress too seems to have joined the bandwagon to press for the caste census. Significantly, the 2010-11 census held under the UPA government reportedly included the caste data. However, It did not make it public. The Government did have reservations then. Now it does not want to be cornered politically by opposing the move.
It is , perhaps, time the Government calls an all-party meeting to discuss the matter and take a unanimous view in national interest. For narrow political gains, the country should not be harmed in the long run. The Constitution makers had envisaged a society away from the evil effects of caste and creed. By holding the caste census, the Government will only encourage further division of society to the detriment of the nation.
Let us not divide and sub-divide the society along caste lines. Polarization along faith and religious lines is already sapping the nation’s strength. On the 75th year of India’s Independence, the country deserved to celebrate its unity in diversity. Instead attempts are being made to weaken it for selfish political benefits.
The last hope, of course, is the electorate which is sovereign in the real sense. Indians of the 21st century must reject obscurantist ideas and not fall prey to opportunist politicians who only think of feathering their own nests.