Politics of caste census and reservation - Hindustan Times

Politics of caste census and reservation

Apr 25, 2024 08:58 AM IST

Rahul Gandhi, who has been spearheading the campaign for caste census, has again focused attention on the reservation and caste census

Social justice and caste-based reservation are key poll issues that have dominated the election narrative for decades. Parties compete and spar over their record in ensuring social justice for the socially and economically marginalised by making assertions of having widened the scope of reservations, ensuring the implementation on ground and making promises of extending the ambit of existing quotas.

An enumerator staff marks a house during a caste-based census in Bihar in 2023. (HT Photo)
An enumerator staff marks a house during a caste-based census in Bihar in 2023. (HT Photo)

This election season, the narrative has not strayed from the expected. The opposition, particularly the Congress, has turned up the heat with its persistent demand for caste-based census, claiming it is the first step towards justice.

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The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was initially ambiguous about its stand on the issue of a revised count, has turned the tables on the opposition by claiming that social justice is not limited to merely counting castes. The BJP claims justice is in ensuring amenities and improving living standards, which it has done by way of a slew of policy interventions and schemes.

Ahead of the second phase of polling, which will take place on Friday, Congress lawmaker and former president Rahul Gandhi, who has been spearheading the campaign for caste census, has again focused attention on the reservation and caste census.

On Wednesday, he put up a valiant defense of the party’s manifesto and reiterated his commitment to caste-based enumeration. Dubbing the survey as a “national X-ray”, he said it is necessary to ensure justice to 90% of Indians and that it would be the first decision that his party will take when it comes to power.

“Caste census is not politics for me, it is my life’s mission. No power in the world can stop the caste census,” he said.

On the controversial issue of ‘wealth redistribution’, Gandhi had a more diplomatic stance, pointing out that the immediate requirement is to “find out how much injustice has been done”.

The BJP, for its part, is not only accusing the Congress of suggesting wealth distribution as a vicarious ploy to take away the hard-earned money from the people but has also alleged that the party wants to create schisms in society by mooting reservation based on religion.

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh alleged that the Congress manifesto has shown its inclination for introducing reservation for religious minorities in government jobs, including the armed forces.

At a rally in Visakhapatnam, Singh said the concept would affect the unity and integrity of the country and would lead to a “terrible situation”.

He cited the example of the undivided Andhra Pradesh, calling it a “communal laboratory” where the Congress experimented with minority quota by reducing reservations of SC, ST, and OBC communities, which were eventually rolled back by the court.

To buttress his claims, Singh referenced the Ranganath Misra Commission, set up by the Congress-led UPA government, and said it recommended 6% reservations for Muslims and 2% for other minorities within the 27% quota designated for OBCs.

As the election campaign picks up pace, the battlelines on the issue of caste, reservation and wealth distribution are all set to harden.

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    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.

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