Home International News Caste counting has now emerged as a major issue for political parties

Caste counting has now emerged as a major issue for political parties

By Kalyani Shankar

Will a caste count cause disaster or meet the demand of many political parties? Although it plays such a dominant role in our social, economic and political lives, it is strange that no credible caste data has existed since 1931. Also, the prominent four main castes, Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudra, have produced hundreds of subcastes and continue to create more subsections.

The caste count requirement is not new: every census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on scheduled castes and tribes, but not other castes. Decennial Census up to 1931 had data on Caste but due to World War 11 the 1941 Census was skipped. After independence, the Nehru government rejected the demand for a caste count. Indira Gandhi’s government reversed the recommendation of the Mandal Commission in the 1981 census. In 2001, the Vajpayee government rejected a similar proposal by the then Registrar General of the Census. In 2010, Manmohan Singh’s government also rejected the inclusion of castes in the census but instead examined on an economic basis. Modi’s government released only its financial component (in 2015) and withheld the caste component. Unfortunately, the 2021 ten-year census has been postponed due to the Covid pandemic.

Political parties have already taken sides and sought and won votes in the name of castes. Caste-based parties have also emerged such as the BSP, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, etc. Parties such as JD(U), RJD, SP, BSP, YSRCP and the DMK depend on certain caste groups for their political strength. They campaigned heavily for the next caste census in 2021. Other leaders including the Prime Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, the Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, the leader of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Akhilesh Yadav, and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, remain in favor.

A caste count may lead to a withdrawal request for reservation. It occurs for almost every census. It became the electoral shelf in states like Tamil Nadu, just as many political parties in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh made a strong case for a caste census. Several communities, such as Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra, have demanded inclusion in the OBC category.

There are arguments for and against the caste count. As for the SC and STs, the quotas are based on the census report. But the OBC reservation was set at 27 percent to keep the reservation limit at 50 percent.

If support for the caste census is political, the opposition is that too, which is multifactorial. A caste-based census will only reveal the higher castes that have been the main beneficiaries. Second, the BJP and the RSS understand that a caste count could dent their carefully constructed caste alliances.

Supporters argue that there could be no good estimate for the OBCs and others without the caste data. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, and some other calculations are based on data from the National Sample Survey. Still, political parties make their estimates in states and Lok Sabha and Assembly seats during elections. Incidentally, the National Commission on Backward Classes, the Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of OBCs and in the past the Registrar General of Census have endorsed the requirement for a backward class count.

Second, the caste count was the only way to break the current 50 percent limit on reservations. The Apex court also recommended that the number of castes was key to deciding on the 50 percent cap.

Third, caste data is vital as a factor in government policy.

Opponents argue that such a workforce will harden caste identities and lead to social fragmentation and caste hostility. Not only would it be divisive, but it would also be counterproductive. There can be political and social consequences. BJP leaders argue that several leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Rammonohar Lohia have stated that caste discrimination has weakened society. They also believe that they should not address a complex and challenging issue now.

The question of a caste count goes beyond politics. Opponents and supporters have made their arguments vigorously. It is up to the Modi administration to make a decision. India conducts the world’s most comprehensive caste identity positive wellness program. While the youth wants an outcaste society, Caste is maintained. India has seen and will continue to see many caste-based agitations, which will damage the social fabric. It is an emotional and controversial issue that many governments would rather keep away from such a census. In the 21st century, India should be talking about ‘let’s abolish the caste’ instead of dividing India further down those lines. (IPA service)

The post Caste Census Has Now Emerged as a Major Problem for Political Parties, appeared first on IPA Newspack.

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