It is to be seen whether the Bihar government will succeed in getting the survey completed before the Lok Sabha polls.
NEW DELHI: The Bihar government’s efforts to conduct a caste-based survey is having a tumultuous ride. The survey promised to fulfil the need for comprehensive data on castes, demanded by anti-caste activists for many years. But it appears to be off track now, primarily due to the High Court order putting stay on it on a question as to whether it is a survey or a census.
A census can be conducted only by the central government. The Bihar government filed a petition in the High Court seeking early hearing, but the court rejected it and has now fixed 3 July as the date for next hearing. However, the Bihar government has approached the Supreme Court, but the apex court has not fixed a date for hearing yet.
Caste census is not new in India. It has been conducted from 1951 and the last one was in 2011. It could not be conducted in 2021 due the Covid pandemic. Data related to religions, languages and socio-economic status is published, but so far as castes are concerned, it is only restricted to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Before Independence, the caste census was conducted in 1931 which became the basis for quota caps fixed by the Mandal Commission. Caste data was collected in 2011 also, but it has not been published yet.
The Bihar government’s decision to conduct the survey has stimulated the old demand which argues that data of the castes should be the basis for the welfare programmes run by the governments. The demand has gathered momentum recently after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi coined a slogan “Jitni Abaadi Utna Haq” which means rewards in the society should be commensurate with population.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has written to the Centre demanding that the caste census be conducted immediately, although the same Congress did not conduct the survey when it was in power. Congress’s allies, too, have urged the Centre to conduct the survey along with the decennial survey which is yet to be published. Those who have demanded a survey on caste census prominently are Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Supremo Sharad Paward, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.
While the opposition parties are augmenting their chorus, the Centre appears to be opposed to it. Many may question its timing given the fact that Lok Sabha elections are just a year away.
It is not that only the Bihar government thought of conducting the experiment. In 2014, the Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka conducted a Social and Educational Survey, but the report was never published. Seven years later, Telangana, too, proceeded with the survey of caste composition, but its fate is still unknown. Odisha also has proceeded with conducting an exercise which will try to understand educational and social conditions of people belonging to backward castes. This exercise is supposed to be completed this month itself.
Now, it is to be seen whether the Bihar government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yaday will succeed in getting the survey completed before the Lok Sabha elections or it would face the same fate as happened in other states.
If they succeed, then certainly the data will come handy for the political parties which have been or claim to have been championing the cause of welfare of backward class and other backward class. It is important to note that though the exercise is being conducted in Bihar, already debate is intensifying over providing a greater share of power to those who are large in numbers.
The Opposition, which is making an attempt to get united, may find a way in the caste based survey and use it as a tool to combat the BJP in the 2024 polls.