A caste census has been a long-standing demand of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The Congress and the BJP at the national level have been hesitant to go ahead with this move. But the Congress seems to have had a change of heart on the issue and even the Bihar BJP unit supported the Bihar caste survey.
Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar, on June 1, 2022, announced at an all-party meeting that all parties in Bihar had decided to go ahead with the caste survey. The move was approved by the Bihar Cabinet on June 2 and ₹500 crore was allocated for the exercise. The first phase of the Survey began in January 2023 and the second and final phase concluded in April.
The first phase involved the counting of households and the second phase collected information on all castes, religions and economic backgrounds.
The survey — Jaati Aadharit Ganana — says that the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) form 85 per cent of Bihar’s population.
Bihar’s current population is 13.07 crore, of which, OBCs form 3.55 crore (27 per cent) and EBCs form 4.71 crore (36 per cent).
The forwards castes or “general category” at 2.03 crore form only 15.5 per cent of Bihar’s population, according to the Survey. Scheduled Castes at 2.57 crore form 19.7 per cent of the population and Scheduled Tribes 1.7 per cent (0.22 crore).
Among the four backward caste communities — Yadavs, Khushwaha, Kurmi, Bania — Yadavs form the biggest chunk 14.26 per cent.
There are 12 communities that form the Extremely Backward Classes category, of which, the Teli community form 2.81 per cent, the highest.
Five communities form the Scheduled Castes category, of which, Chamar/ Mochi/ Ravidas/ Charmkar form the biggest chunk of 5.25 per cent.
In the unreserved (forward) category there are four communities — Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar and Kayastha — of which Brahmins are the highest at 3.65 per cent.
This is the first time since 1931 that a Survey on caste has been conducted.
Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM, has always been vocal about a caste survey. He even wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a caste survey. Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) has always seen itself being a party that believes in the economic and social empowerment of the Backward Classes.
Against the Hindutva consolidation project of the BJP, the caste survey resurrects the politics of reservation i.e., Mandal-2 in the politically crucial Hindi heartland before the general elections, 2024. Nitish Kumar has called an all-party meeting to discuss the way forward after the caste census. It can lead to them raising the demand for breaching the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation
Yes, that is possible. There are reports of Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis not being averse to such a survey in Maharashtra. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh has promised a caste survey in Madhya Pradesh if his party comes to power in the Assembly elections slated for the year-end.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has also been vocal in his demand for a nation-wide caste survey and so has the Opposition coalition INDIA bloc. In Tamil Nadu, ruling party DMK’s ally the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), and PMK and AMMK have demanded a caste survey.
The caste survey was challenged legally in Bihar and the Patna High Court had stayed the survey in April. But three months later the Patna High Court termed the survey “perfectly valid”.
The survey was legally challenged on two grounds — that it violated the citizen’s privacy and that the State did not have the competency to conduct such a survey.
On privacy, the High Court referred to the landmark 2017 Supreme Court judgment on KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India, saying that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the citizen’s fundamental rights on the grounds of the State’s legitimate interests.
The High Court also added that the information sought in the survey was being voluntarily disclosed by people for bringing about welfare schemes for the backward classes.
On the State’s competence on conducting the survey, the High Court in its ruling said, “We find the action of the State to be perfectly valid, initiated with due competence, with the legitimate aim of providing ‘Development with Justice’.”
Meanwhile, the Central Government has claimed that only it has the sole right to conduct a caste survey and not the States. It has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court reiterating its exclusive right to conduct such caste surveys.
The Supreme Court will hear a case on October 6 filed by a petitioner challenging the legality of the Bihar caste survey.
The eagerness with which the INDIA bloc has jumped into the fray shows that it sees a political resonance for a nation-wide caste survey. The Opposition bloc also feels that a demand for a caste survey will burnish its “pro-poor”, “pro-social justice” image.
Also given how the BJP has been making inroads among the EBC and Dalit communities over the last few years, the Opposition is trying to win back its lost ground. The Opposition is certainly hoping that this would turn into Mandal 3.0 to counter BJP’s “muscular nationalist” agenda.