Patna: Ahead of the meeting of the all-party Bihar delegation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on caste-based census Monday, the state BJP is a divided house. While several BJP leaders are against the caste census, a few of the OBC leaders of the party have come out in favour of it.
“Both caste census and a law on population control are necessary. The mandate to do it lies with the Centre. It is good that CM Nitish Kumar and PM Modi will be meeting on the issue”, Bihar BJP minister Ram Surat Rai told The Print.
Meanwhile, BJP MP Ram Kripal Yadav said the party “has been ahead of others when it comes to safeguarding the rights of OBCs,” referring to the OBC quota in medical colleges.
Nitish Kumar & ally BJP
CM Nitish Kumar last week announced that he has sought an appointment with PM Modi on 23 August to discuss the issue of caste-based census. He hinted that leaders of the ally BJP, the party which has so far opposed census demand, will be part of the delegation, but the BJP leaders remained silent.
However, the saffron party Saturday suggested that it was open to the idea of including its members in the delegation.
“The CM is heading the delegation and we will include our member if he wants to. It is good that PM Modi has called the meeting. It will bring clarity on the stand taken by the Centre and the state on the issue,” said BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.
According to BJP sources, minister Janak Ram will be part of the 11-member delegation led by Nitish. Other members include RJD leader and the leader of opposition in the state assembly Tejashwi Yadav.
The plan to lead an all-party delegation was mooted during a meeting between Nitish, Tejashwi and other state leaders on 30 July.
Not only the BJP skipped the meeting, but state party president Sanjay Jaiswal also said that the caste survey will create social tension.
Meanwhile, BJP legislators Sanjay Paswan and Haribhushan Thakur Bachaol said economic backwardness and not caste should be the criteria for conducting a census.
Most BJP leaders opposed caste census after the Union government ruled out parties’ demand, including its allies, in Parliament. “But a realisation has now dawned upon the party that it would not like to be seen as the isolated party which is opposing caste census”, remarked a BJP MP recalling that the BJP supported caste census in 2008 when the Bihar assembly passed a resolution in favour of it. The figures of the 2011 caste census were never made publicly available by the Centre.
The BJP was a marginal player in Bihar till 1990 and was considered an urban party. However, in 1998, after the Congress came out in support of Lalu Prasad Yadav, the upper castes switched their loyalty to the BJP from Congress.
The BJP, meanwhile, found more acceptance among the OBCs after its alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Samata Party and the fact that the state leadership was handed over to OBC leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi and Nand Kishor Yadav.
In 2015, when the BJP fought the combined forces of Lalu and Nitish, it had an average of 60,000 votes in the 168 assembly seats it contested. However, it’s the upper castes who still predominantly vote for the BJP.
The seat-sharing agreement between the BJP and JDU sees the saffron party giving weightage to upper castes, while the JD(U) concentrates on the OBC votebank.
The demand of caste census has put the BJP in a dilemma. It cannot wholeheartedly support OBC politics, unlike the JDU and RJD, because it fears it would antagonise the upper castes. Nor can it be seen as anti-OBC party because it has made inroads in the sizable OBC and Dalit vote bank in the state.
The 2015 assembly election haunted the BJP for a long time. Reason: RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav dared the RSS and BJP to end reservation system following RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks. It wouldn’t want to repeat the mistake. That is why a half-hearted BJP has appointed Janak Ram as a member of the delegation.