Caste Census is Opposition’s Political Ploy
The BJP’s victory reiterates that identity-driven politics will retain its utility in a vast and diverse democracy like India. However, it is crucial for the survival of the traditional doyens of caste politics in India to reinvent themselves and recalibrate their ideologies aligning the development of all to remain significant in the changing political discourse and resonate with the growing aspirations of its core voter constituencies rather than unnecessarily bringing into vogue the Caste Census issue aiming at disintegrating India for their petty political gains in which they are not going to succeed, for the wise Indian Voter prefers the politics of cohesion and development rather than that of divisions and monopolized spaces. The Voter’s dislike is also for the tendencies which shatter the democratic fabric of the country as it does not fit in with the fundamental principle of “development for all”, and it is for this reason that the Opposition may not attain its political objective simply by pushing forward the issue of Caste Census.
By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
The demand for a Caste Census is an old and sensitive issue. Castes began to be officially enumerated in the British era and the last Caste-Census was conducted in 1931. Independent India limited the practice to only counting Scheduled-Castes and Tribes- for extending reservation. The Centre conducted a separate Socio-economic Caste Census in 2011 but its caste data were never made public, perhaps for the fear that that could fuel the growing quota demands from dominant groups, such as Jats, Patels, Gujjars, Marathas among others. The Caste-Census issue emerging recently again snowballing into the election ahead of crucial polls in seven States is being led by the Bihar Chief-Minister Nitish Kumar, and almost all the Parties excluding BJP have come together to push for caste- based enumeration in the State/s where OBCs are a decisive vote-bank. The Opposition has been actively pursuing its demand since G Rohini led Commission submitted a draft proposal recommending a sub-categorization of the reservation for the OBC.
Caste Census means the availability and sharing of each Caste data. This would create more divide in the society, and demands for reducing quota for certain Castes and increasing for others. The 1931 Census was conducted to identify the ways through which Colonial Power could strengthen control. The idea was used to create a separate vote-bank in the 1980s by the leaders who emerged from Jai Prakash Narain’s anti-corruption movement and led to the creation of Janata Dal. Something similar is being attempted now through the sub-categorization of OBC quota. Political Parties know that the Caste-Census can help them to create new vote-bank of socially and economically deprived sections among the OBCs. Nitish Kumar has been able to carve such a vote-bank for his party. But, will this help the Opposition in the transformed scenario wherein the BJP has taken a lead following the path of development based on equity, access and social justice?
Now, the million- dollar question is “Should we divide and disintegrate following the Colonizers or evolve a common thread that binds us all together on the principle of “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas”. Internalizing the principle, the BJP has rightly begun its outreach to elucidate how its central schemes and interventions at the State level have helped marginalized Sections of Society. For the BJP, it sounds to be a win-win situation; not only has it taken steps such as giving greater representation to OBCs in the Union Cabinet, reserving 27% seats for OBC children in schools and providing quota for them in NEET exam, execution of Ujjawal Yojana, etc. Besides, BJP is a party whose leadership is from the OBC communities.
Andre Beteille writes that electoral politics and media have kept the caste alive in India (‘India’s Destiny not Caste in Stone’ in The Hindu). Outside politics, many changes, slow but steady, have transformed Caste-practices and Caste-consciousness in such areas as inter-dining, inter-caste marriages and caste-based occupations. There has been a move from particularistic to universalistic forms of social relations, cannot be denied. The problem with the Opposition is that they have deliberately failed themselves to perceive the India specific features of development path; these features are now defined not by enforcing the rules of purity/pollution to restrict access of Dalits and OBCs to resources and opportunities but by the principle “sab ka Vikas”. As a consequence, the country has fared well in almost all measures of social indicators provided by major National and International Agencies such as Human Development Index (HDI), Multiple Poverty Index (MPI), Global Hunger Index (GHI) in the Developing Countries of the World.
The democratic process reaching down deeper and deeper into the body politic to bring newer castes into the upper socio-economic and political echelons is a stupendous achievement of Indian democracy which would certainly be threatened by Caste Census, for it would further create a divide and restrict the access of particular castes in several ways.
The all-consuming nationalistic campaign of the BJP trumped the caste orientations and political arithmetic of the Hindi heartland, and retained its supremacy in two of the most crucial States, accounting for 120 Seats in the national Parliament. It raises questions over the future of India’s Caste- based Parties. BJP’s juggernaut perhaps underlines the end of Caste-based politics and mobilization by the Political Parties in the name of Social Justice. BJP has completely defeated the post-Mandal politics and its so-called “social justice legatees” in India’s politically most significant States. This portends a bleak future for the Parties that mobilize their supporters along markers of caste identity in India’s modified political cartography. As a result, these Parties in the search of a mechanism that can make them survive on the political spectrum. That is why the ‘political ploy’ of Caste Census.
The victory of Narendra Modi in 2019 has reinvented and redefined Caste and its political salience. BJP’s victory must be attributed to the strong leader image, use of national security as the central election issue and the mobilization of the downtrodden comprising the less dominant castes and sub-castes under its fundamental principle “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas”. The social churning set in motion with the idea of Samgra(integrated)Hindutava and development for all has defeated the strong Dalit-Bahujan alliance and punctured the UPA’s campaign around the issue of reservation and welfare of the lower castes in both Bihar and UP. The proponents of Caste- based politics were seen lagging due to their fixation with dynastic politics and, corruption and self-preservation defining their political identities.
The Opposition must understand that the view of Hindu unity and development for all have gained political support for BJP and have caused Caste-Parties to regress. The Caste census about a fatal change dealing with a kaleidoscope to reveal messy ‘entanglement of human history’, ‘sharp divisions’ and ‘monopolized spaces’. The country must remain peaceful Quite contrarily the implementation of Caste Census might result into explosion of sectarian strife taking a heavy toll of lives. Besides, the enumeration of OBCs and SEBCs will adversely affect the integrity of Census. Therefore, the enumeration should not be used to develop caste-sensitive policies. This is a problem with the Opposition and they need to get out of this mindset; they need to address these as universal problems and develop a universalist approach to policy making rather than a caste-sensitive one.
By Dr Suresh Kumar agrawal
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)