The government on Friday took the historic decision to include caste in the ongoing census. “Caste will be included in the present census,” finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters on Friday.
A caste-based census was last carried out in 1931. Independent India had shunned counting the numbers of people belonging to each caste — barring an omnibus figure for the scheduled caste — with the objective of moving towards a casteless society.
Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said: “I am aware of the views of members of Parliament belonging to all sections. I assure you the Cabinet will take a decision shortly.’’
Though Singh had not made any explicit commitment to include caste in the census, the Yadav trio — Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal-U’s Sharad Yadav — who had been pushing for the step, thumped their desks and congratulated him.
Mukherjee’s assertion is seen as a reflection of Congress president Sonia Gandhi endorsing a caste-based census and a rejection of the problems in conducing such a survey, as listed by the registrar general, whom home minister P Chidambaram quoted.
The delight with which the Yadavs welcomed Singh’s statement led to speculation of backroom understanding between the government and the SP and RJD whose 25 MPs can provide a numerical cushion to the UPA, which is working with a razor-thin majority in the 543-member House.
Among the “deals” talked about is a quid pro quo over the civil nuclear liability bill that is opposed by the BJP and Left. Mulayam, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on energy, is likely to vet the bill within two months so it can be passed in the monsoon session in July.
Similarly, the government may not immediately press for the women’s reservation bill, which the Yadavs oppose.
Singh’s statement in Lok Sabha came after the Opposition got the House adjourned in protest over Chidambaram’s statement that a question on caste will raise issues regarding methodology, avoiding phonetic and spelling errors and maintaining the integrity of the enumeration.