Patna: Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a “patient hearing” to members of 10 Bihar political parties who met him Monday to demand a caste-based census in 2022, but was non-committal, ThePrint has learnt.
“I will consider it and make a decision,” a source who attended the meeting quoted the Prime Minister as having said.
The 10-party delegation was led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and included the Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
According to sources present at the meeting, Nitish stressed that a caste census was needed for ensuring that welfare programmes reached all deprived sections of society. “Even the BJP is on board,” the aforementioned source quoted him as having said.
Tejashwi Yadav, sources said, stressed that the caste census would not lead to social tension, adding that the number of communities are being counted currently but it has not led to communal tension.
He later told the media in Delhi that the caste census will only improve the country’s ability to identify weaker sections and run development programmes. “We have said everything now. We are waiting for the PM to take a call,” he said.
“The Prime Minister listened to all of us attentively. Towards the end of the meeting, he said he will consider the demands and make a decision,” AIMIM’s Akhtarul Imam told The Print, adding that the PM did not speak while they were talking.
Ajit Sharma of the Congress hailed the talks as positive. If he takes a call in favour of a caste census, it will be a big decision for the country, he added.
“Each delegate was allowed to speak for two to three minutes but the CM did the maximum talking. Even the BJP representative and minister Janak Ram spoke in favour of a caste census,” VIP president and Bihar minister Mukesh Sahni told The Print.
A senior BJP leader said while the PM has given the delegation a patient hearing, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is in favour of the idea. “Anyone who knows PM Modi will agree that he is a patient listener. But what decision he will take nobody knows,” the BJP leader said.
BJP and caste census
The BJP has been sending mixed messages on a caste census.
In July, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai ruled out a caste-based census in Parliament.
When Nitish and Tejashwi Yadav joined hands on the issue, several BJP leaders opposed a caste census, saying that it would lead to caste tension.
Lately, however, BJP leaders have been trying to catch up with other parties.
On Sunday, BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi, in a series of tweets, said his party had never opposed a caste-based census.
He said it was the late Gopinath Munde who was the first to make the demand in Parliament in 2011, and pointed out that the last caste survey was conducted in 1931 when Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were one state and the population was about one crore.
भाजपा कभी जातीय जनगणना के विरोध में नहीं रही, इसीलिए हम इस मुद्दे पर विधान सभा और विधान परिषद में पारित प्रस्ताव का हिस्सा रहे हैं।
प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी से मिलने वाले बिहार के प्रतिनिधिमण्डल में भी भाजपा शामिल है।
— Sushil Kumar Modi (@SushilModi) August 22, 2021
A BJP MP told ThePrint that one of the reasons why the party is treading cautiously on a caste survey is because it believes it will lead to sharp reactions. “The survey will lead to some castes demanding more quota, and a pitch for doing away with the 50 per cent cap on reservation put by the Supreme Court,” the MP said. “There will be calls for quotas in the private sector and other problems. The party is not sure that it would be able to handle so many related issues at a time.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)