Thursday, May 6, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Caste-based census may lead to political clash ahead of polls

Posted: Wed, May 5 2010. 9:26 PM IST
Economy and Politics

Caste-based census may lead to political clash ahead of polls

Home minister has said recording around 6,000 castes and 65,000
sub-castes will be impractical

Santosh K. Joy and Liz Mathew
New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government's reluctance to ask people to record the caste they belong
to in the ongoing census may lead to a clash with regional parties
before assembly elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Secular state: Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken
said the decision was taken keeping in view the spirit of the
Constitution. Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times

The government cited "practical difficulties" and the Constitution for
its resistance to the idea.

"A decision to discourage community distinction based on caste was
taken keeping in view the spirit of the secular state enshrined in the
preamble of the Constitution of India," said Union minister of state
for home affairs Ajay Maken in reply to a letter by Rajya Sabha member
and the Janata Dal (United) lawmaker Ali Anwar. Anwar had argued that
only a statistical record on the size and character of other backward
castes (OBCs) would make their progress possible.

The Supreme Court had in April 2009 dismissed a plea filed by a Tamil
Nadu-based party that the government undertake a caste-based census,
saying it could lead to sectarian strife.

According to a minister who attended Tuesday's cabinet meeting that
discussed the demand for a caste-based census, home minister P.
Chidambaram said the enrolment and verification of around 6,000 castes
and 65,000 sub-castes in the country would be impractical and
enumerators may not have the sociological sensitivity to record such
categories. The cabinet was divided over the issue, the minister said.

Chidambaram declined to comment when asked about his view on the issue.

The census, first conducted in 1881, collected caste-wise data until
1931. While the census continues to count scheduled castes and
scheduled tribes, OBCs have not been enumerated for 80 years.

"Some regional parties will use the government's reluctance to agree
to a caste-based census to further attack the Congress, even if the
suggestion is impractical," said a senior Congress leader and cabinet
minister, who did not want to be identified. He added that the
"political fallout" may be greater in the Hindi belt.

With elections to key states such as Bihar this year and Uttar Pradesh
in 2012, opposition parties allege that the UPA is weighing "its
political gains above an act of historic correction which has
pro-people implications", said Rajnath Singh of the main opposition
Bharatiya Janata Party.

The government's reluctance is guided by an elite few among the
organized caste formations that support the politicians of the day,
especially the ones in power, according to Vivek Kumar, associate
professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru

Some of the government's allies were open about their disagreement
over the issue.

"Why can't we have a caste-based census once and then go ahead with
our development and other pro-people policies so that there could be
better, targeted implementation," said Union minister for new and
renewable energy Farooq Abdullah.

Such data could "validate caste-based reservations and avoid further
litigation", JNU's Kumar said. It "could help have a better view on
the exclusion of creamy layers, and reservations in promotional
opportunities could be implemented more effectively".


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