OBC commission member Bajaj backs caste census

Updated on Aug 25, 2021 06:20 AM IST

The last time there was a full caste census was in 1931, but in recent weeks, the demand for one has only gotten louder with the BJP’s own leaders such as Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi justifying the need for one

The support for the survey was evident in the composition of the delegation from Bihar that met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought a survey PREMIUM
The support for the survey was evident in the composition of the delegation from Bihar that met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought a survey
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

At least one of the members of the government’s Commission for sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes or OBCs has supported a caste census, demand for which has gained momentum with sections of the ruling party, its allies such as the Janata Dal United, and the Opposition all pushing for one. JK Bajaj, member of the commission which was appointed by the President in 2017 to look at the distribution of the benefits of reservation and suggest changes said that while the debate on a caste survey is focused on the political fallout , there are clear administrative benefits that could help the government improve the delivery of its social welfare schemes.

“Census does not only count bare numbers, it also gives a detailed socio-economic profile of different groups of people. It tells us about their literacy rates and the number of graduates or number of professionals, etc., among them. It tells us about their gender ratios and fertility rates; about their work participation rates; about how many of them are cultivators and how many are agricultural labourers. It even tells us about the kind of houses they live in and the geographical distribution of particular groups,’’ said Bajaj. “ Such data allows for targeting our welfare measures towards every part of the spectrum of people in the country and tailor these measures to their specific requirements and needs...”

The last time there was a full caste census was in 1931 but in recent weeks, demand for one has only gotten louder with the Bhartiya Janata Party’s own leaders such as Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi justifying the need for one.

The party itself has not explicitly taken a stand on the issue, given its sensitivity and the possibility that it could trigger a backlash, both from other backward classes (OBCs) that lose out on benefits if the reservation formula is redefined following a caste census, and from upper castes that fear the survey could be a pre-cursor to breaching the 50% limit for reservations.

The support for the survey was evident in the composition of the delegation from Bihar that met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought a survey. It included Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, leader of the Opposition in Bihar Tejaswi yadav, and representatives of eight other parties. Modi heard out all the leaders and the government is expected to take a call on a survey soon. The Apna Dal, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Republican Party of India- Athawale, all BJP allies, also support a survey. As do the YSR Congress and the Biju Janata Dal, considered friendly parties, and almost the entire Opposition.

“The decision not to do a caste-wise count in the 1961 census was based on the assumption and hope that caste shall soon lose its salience in the society and polity of India,’’ said Bajaj. “But caste remains a significant factor in our polity. Much of our efforts towards welfare and affirmative action are based on caste and it has to be granted that this is one of the factors that has helped India achieve a highly inclusive polity.’’

Bajaj is learnt to have pushed his point of view internally in the government. He argued that a caste census would provide information which policymakers can utlise. For instance, he said, policy makers will have access to socio-economic data including the number of graduates or the fertility rate of a certain community.

“We have always been doing a caste-wise count for the SC and ST communities,’’ said Bajaj. “ Because of that we have much information about the individual castes and tribes among the SCs and STs. We know exactly how each of those castes or tribes have fared in our development journey. A complete caste census would give us similar information about other relatively deprived groups also.’’ The last time this was attempted was in 2011 when the Socio Economic and Caste census was conducted. However, the caste data was not published; the government of the data cited inherent errors, but it is likely political sensitivities stayed its hand.

“It (Deciding to do a survey) is not an easy decision,’’ said Bajaj. “Nor is it an easy job to carry out.’’ One of the greatest fears is that of political upheaval if the population of other backward classes or OBCs in India exceeds 52% (as mentioned in the Mandal report), in which case, they would ask for more than 27% reservation (recommended by Mandal and adopted by the government).

Not everyone is convinced of the need for such a census, though.

Former health secretary Sujatha Rao tweeted against any such caste census. "How regressive can we get? For governments there should only be two castes -- the rich and the poor. Don’t understand what that backward Bihar wants a caste census instead on Industries education and health. What a vision."

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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