A national caste census looks all but inevitable
SummaryIdentity politics is a reality, the ‘average’ Indian would identify as OBC and our democracy’s dynamics favour a caste headcount beyond Bihar. But any quota rejig will need deep debate
The term ‘historic’ may have lost its punch from overuse, but Bihar’s caste count will qualify if it revives the Mandal movement in Indian politics and forces a quota policy rejig. The chances of both rose on 2 October. Patna made public the findings of a state-level survey, India’s first enumeration by caste since a census done back in 1931. Reviled for hard-coding such identities, that Raj-era practice was dumped. Alas, identity politics has proven inescapable. The dominant player in our political arena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has counted on Hindu consolidation as part of its electoral game-plan all along, but it got its heft under Narendra Modi’s leadership from a vote swing among Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who probably form the majority of our citizens. The BJP’s 2024 challenger for power, an alliance called INDIA, seems bent on making caste injustice a big plank in a campaign aimed broadly at the same modal chunk of the electorate. With our democracy’s dynamics shaped by shifts in OBC support and a popular appetite for data whetted by hot news of Bihar’s caste break-up, an all-India caste census looks all but inevitable now. For all the unease this proposal causes, even the BJP may find that the idea cannot be corked back in.