New Delhi: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress sparred over the decision to collect data on other backward classes (OBCs) for the first time ever in 2021 Census. The move is being seen as a key strategy to reach out to and consolidate the politically sensitive segment of society. The Congress has called it a “political gimmick" and demanded that the government first make public the report of the earlier caste-based census.

“This is further complicating the issue and misleading the people. We have already demanded that the findings of the caste data done during the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) be released. There will be a clear picture once that is made public, but the government is not doing it. They have made this announcement because they want to reach out to OBCs before elections. After that they will forget about it," Tamradhwaj Sahu, senior Lok Sabha member and chief of Congress’ OBC cell, told Mint.

The BJP meanwhile said it is fulfilling a longstanding demand of the community.

“It has been an old demand of the community that there should be a census on other backward classes. The Union government is responding to the demands of the OBCs. There has been a concerted effort on part of the government to understand the demands of the communities. The OBC commission was one such demand and the government also responded to the demands of the Dalits by bringing in a special law to safeguard their interests," said a senior BJP leader seeking anonymity.

Home minister Rajnath Singh in a meeting on Friday reviewed and discussed the roadmap for the next census. Subsequently, he said in a press release that it envisages to “collect data on OBC for the first time". The move comes on the Union cabinet’s decision last year to set up a committee to make sub-categorization within the OBC list.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has been consistently looking to reach out to the OBC community and its efforts were realised during the 2014 general elections and, subsequently, during the 2017 UP assembly polls. The Congress, too, was keen to reach out to the community with its recent announcement that it will ensure that all its internal party committees will have representations from OBCs.