On Friday, while releasing the manifesto for the Chhattisgarh assembly polls, Union home minister Amit Shah said the BJP has never opposed a caste census. But he hedged his response by adding that it is a decision that has to be taken “after careful thought”, “after consulting everyone”, and “at an appropriate time”. He also sought to politics-proof the call on caste census. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also claimed that “poor” was the only caste that is relevant. However, soon after the Bihar caste survey findings were released, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi had claimed the survey was the BJP’s “baby” since the party was a part of the coalition government that decided to conduct it. Some of the NDA allies have also supported the demand for a national caste census.
The reticence of the BJP to debate the caste census demand is because of political and ideological reasons. INDIA has made the caste census demand a campaign issue; in fact, it is a part of its outreach to the other backward classes (OBC). The Opposition may gain first mover advantage if the Centre accedes to this demand immediately. Originally a demand of the Lohiaite socialists in UP and Bihar and the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, the Congress embraced OBC politics before the recent Karnataka assembly elections. A consolidation of OBCs in its favour contributed to its resounding win in that state. It has since joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party and DMK to argue for further Mandalisation of the polity by demanding better representation of OBCs in political and economic spheres — for instance, its insistence on an OBC sub-quota within women’s reservation in legislatures. The BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS, see caste as a category that divides Hindu society and plays down its role in politics. Hindu upper castes back the BJP also for this reason. However, the party has smartly exploited the fissures within the large OBC spectrum to win over smaller OBC groups that resent the domination of the numerically strong castes.
The BJP, and the NDA, will have to negotiate these contradictions as the general election nears. Caste politics is competing with welfare in the five states set for assembly elections this month. This is likely to be the template for the general election as well.
Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription
Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics