Opposition parties stepped up pressure on the NDA government on Saturday to release caste data in the country’s first Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) so that the numerical strength of the poor and downtrodden sections could be identified.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad demanded that the Centre make the caste census public instead of withholding it, but some experts said the government kept the caste figures in the survey released on Friday under wraps because of fears it may spark social tensions and lead to demands for a fresh look at reservations.
There were also concerns that the data could alter the poll equations in Bihar, given the possibility that the backward caste leaders could use it to show their numerical strength compared to the upper castes.
The JD(U) and the Congress also trained their guns at the Centre, but advocated caution while making the data public in view of social and political sensitivities associated with the issue.
JD(U) state spokesman Nehora Prasad Yadav said, “We have been demanding since 2010 that the caste census should be held to ascertain the number of people belonging to backward classes. Now that the data has been compiled, it should be released but in a careful manner.”
Congress spokesperson Rajiv Gowda echoed the same sentiment, saying, “What we want to ensure is that the data is released in a sensitive and careful manner so that there is no adverse reaction and it is seen as a true study into the realities of India.”
The release of caste data is considered a political hot potato and there are strong views for and against it, which were voiced some years ago when the process for the SECC had begun during the UPA rule.
The Congress and the BJP had reluctantly agreed to the caste census under pressure from the RJD, JD(U) and the SP that had blocked proceedings in Parliament over the issue in 2010.
The Cabinet had then decided that since the census commissioner did not have the expertise to identify and tabulate castes, the home ministry would hand over the raw caste data collected by enumerators to a panel of experts set up by the social justice and empowerment ministry for processing.
There has been no formal word that this panel has even been constituted.
PL Punia, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), said he failed to understand the logic behind the decision to conceal the data.
“I don’t see any political reason for it as releasing the data is in no way going to hurt any party’s poll calculations in Bihar. In fact, the census will help not only in giving the figure of different castes, but also in identifying the areas that need to be focused on for overall development of those castes,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)