New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s reluctance to ask people to record the caste they belong to in the ongoing census may lead to a clash with regional parties before assembly elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The government cited “practical difficulties” and the Constitution for its resistance to the idea.
Secular state: Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken said the decision was taken keeping in view the spirit of the Constitution. Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times
“A decision to discourage community distinction based on caste was taken keeping in view the spirit of the secular state enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of India,” said Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken in reply to a letter by Rajya Sabha member and the Janata Dal (United) lawmaker Ali Anwar. Anwar had argued that only a statistical record on the size and character of other backward castes (OBCs) would make their progress possible.
The Supreme Court had in April 2009 dismissed a plea filed by a Tamil Nadu-based party that the government undertake a caste-based census, saying it could lead to sectarian strife.
According to a minister who attended Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that discussed the demand for a caste-based census, home minister P. Chidambaram said the enrolment and verification of around 6,000 castes and 65,000 sub-castes in the country would be impractical and enumerators may not have the sociological sensitivity to record such categories. The cabinet was divided over the issue, the minister said.
Chidambaram declined to comment when asked about his view on the issue.
The census, first conducted in 1881, collected caste-wise data until 1931. While the census continues to count scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, OBCs have not been enumerated for 80 years.
“Some regional parties will use the government’s reluctance to agree to a caste-based census to further attack the Congress, even if the suggestion is impractical,” said a senior Congress leader and cabinet minister, who did not want to be identified. He added that the “political fallout” may be greater in the Hindi belt.
With elections to key states such as Bihar this year and Uttar Pradesh in 2012, opposition parties allege that the UPA is weighing “its political gains above an act of historic correction which has pro-people implications”, said Rajnath Singh of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
The government’s reluctance is guided by an elite few among the organized caste formations that support the politicians of the day, especially the ones in power, according to Vivek Kumar, associate professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Some of the government’s allies were open about their disagreement over the issue.
“Why can’t we have a caste-based census once and then go ahead with our development and other pro-people policies so that there could be better, targeted implementation,” said Union minister for new and renewable energy Farooq Abdullah.
Such data could “validate caste-based reservations and avoid further litigation”, JNU’s Kumar said. It “could help have a better view on the exclusion of creamy layers, and reservations in promotional opportunities could be implemented more effectively”.