A day before a Nitish Kumar-led Bihar cross-party delegation’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ask for a caste-based census, BJP leader Sushil Modi said in tweets that his party is not averse to such an exercise. His comments betrayed the ruling BJP’s tough political tightrope walk on the subject weeks after the government told parliament that it had decided not to carry out a caste-based count as a matter of policy.
“BJP was never against caste-based census, we have also been part of resolutions passed in the legislative assembly and council in its support. The delegation that will meet PM Modi also includes a BJP representative,” Sushil Modi wrote in a series of posts on Sunday.
Nitish Kumar’s former deputy said in 2011, the BJP’s Gopinath Munde had spoken in favour of a caste-based count in parliament. “When the then government conducted a social, economic and caste-based assessment, there were shortcomings in data. The number of communities ran into lakhs. That report was not made public because of the errors. It was not part of the Census,” Mr Modi said.
According to him, the last time a caste-based count took place was in 1931, under British rule, when Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were one entity.
“At the time, of around 1 crore people in Bihar, only people of 22 castes were counted. After 90 years, there are big differences now – economic, social, geographical and political. There are technical and practical difficulties in a caste-based census, but still, the BJP supports it in principle,” Mr Modi tweeted.
All parties in Bihar have called for a caste census, but for the BJP, it is a politically tricky subject with the state agenda at odds with the national view.
The former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister’s tweets were seen to defend the BJP’s stand against the perception that the ruling party is cold to the idea and that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to wait too long for an appointment with the Prime Minister on the subject. The posts are also being interpreted as belated realisation in the party that it has proved politically very costly for them to “miss this bus” in the past and even now, this could easily play out to the advantage of Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav.
On July 20, in a written reply to a question in parliament, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai had said: “The Government of India has decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the census.”
Mr Modi sought to point out that the BJP is also a part of today’s delegation – the party’s Janak Ram, a Bihar minister, will meet with PM Modi along with Nitish Kumar, opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, Congress leader Ajeet Sharma, Left leaders and former Chief Minister and President of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) Jitan Ram Manjhi.
After Independence, leaders like BR Ambedkar had argued that a caste census would be inimical to an equitable society. Every census since 1947 has only counted Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.