In a surprise yet bold intervention in the ongoing debate, Minister of State for Home Ajay Maken has opposed the demand for caste-based census in an “open letter” to young Members of Parliament across party lines.
“If we were to accept caste as a parameter in the Census, we would, for at least the next 10-20 years institutionalise caste rather than development as the national political agenda,” he wrote in his two-page, well argued appeal to 67 MPs in the age-group of 25-45.
The past decade saw people mandating development and good governance rather than voting on caste or community lines, noted Maken. “Let us implement our mandate and lead rather than being led by divisive agendas for short term gain,” he said.
Imploring MPs to “practice politics in the realm of development,” Maken distinguished his take on the issue from his ministerial responsibilities that include overseeing enumeration by the Registrar General of India. Coming as it does a day after the matter was referred to a Group of Ministers, the New Delhi MP’s bid to make common cause with others of his generation is bound to sharpen the debate on the issue on which consensus eluded the Union Cabinet.
Maken wasn’t available for comment. But sources privy to his thinking said the letter aimed at expanding the scope of the debate in the run-up to the GoM’s proceedings that will entail discussions with parties backing the demand of OBC-centric groupings. Their argument: a caste count will help rationalise fund allocation for plans and schemes targeting backward classes.
The position taken by Maken is closer to the Home Ministry’s original stance rejecting caste Census on procedural grounds.
It has since modified its opinion to suggest such enumeration at the biometric stage after the Census.
Maken pointed out in his letter that caste Census wasn’t ever advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, Pt Nehru, Sardar Patel, Indira
Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and A.B. Vajpayee.
Maken’s buttressed his case by listing the deleterious aspects of caste Census: domino-effect demands for OBC status; misrepresentations and false claims to secure special benefits.
The minister said over 6,000 castes figured in the central list of backward classes, only 729 of which were added on the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes. “No credible exercise was undertaken to justify inclusion of the rest,” he wrote.
Belonging to a Punjabi refugee family from Pakistan, Maken signed off on a personal note: “I shudder to think what I’d do if in a politically surcharged environ, my community demands of me to stand up and ask for an OBC status for them.