The demand for OBCs caste-based census and the associated politics

The Bihar all-party delegation yesterday met Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to push for a caste-based census in India. The delegation was led by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar.

Kumar termed the caste-based census essential not only for Bihar but for the entire country. He said that “it is a crucial issue and we have been seeking this for long. It if works out, that nothing could be better than that. Moreover, it would be not just for Bihar, people in the whole country will benefit from this. It should be done at least once. We will put forward our views from this angle.”

It is noteworthy that during the recent Parliament session, the demand was raised to lift the 50% cap on reservation that was imposed by the Supreme Court, through a legislative route. Those who support caste-based census assert that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is essential to breach the 50% cap on the reservation and to further rationalise the reservation system in the country.

As there is an absence of such a census, there exists no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, with that groups within the OBCs, and various others. The Mandal Commission had earlier estimated the OBC population at 52%, some other estimates are based on data from National Sample Survey. The political parties however make estimates of these in the states and Lok Sabha and Assembly seats during elections.

Previously, on the 1st of April, National Commission for Backward Classes which is a constitutional body requested the government to collect data on the population of OBCs “as part of Census of India 2021 exercise.”

The Centre has however affirmed that the 2021 Census will not undertake a count of members of Other Backward Classes (OBC) over the country. The last count of OBCs was done in 1931 during British Raj when the share of the population was found to be 52%. Later, it was not done by the British in 1941 due to financial constraints considering the Second World War (1939-1945). It is believed was further discontinued as it was divisive and against national unity and harmony among various castes. Another reason for the ruling party could be to avoid any unfortunate surprises in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.

The census already records various data, including religion, language, socio-economic status, and also counts Dalits and Adivasis which makes some experts say that there might not be a valid reason to count OBCs. Another set of experts including Economists and policymakers however believe that counting OBCs could inform government programmes and efforts better as many of them have not got benefitted so far as per their actual population.

It is up to the centre whether it goes with the OBCs count in the census or not, census being a union subject. However, there exists a strong view that a caste-based census would bring in the Mandal politics which could work as a tool in the hands of regional parties that could further make inroads into BJP’s Hindutva based politics.

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