New Delhi: A delegation of 10 parties from Bihar headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday demanding the conduct of caste based census.
Leader of opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, ministers in the Bihar government Janak Ram, Mukesh Sahani and Vijay Kumar Choudhary, Leader of Congress Legislature Party Ajit Sharma, Suryakant Paswan of the CPI, Mahboob Alam (CPI-ML), Akhtarul Imam (AIMIM), and Ajay Kumar (CPI-M) were part of the delegation led by Nitish Kumar.
After the meeting, Kumar said that all parties from Bihar spoke in one voice on the need for a caste-based census, and asserted that statistics about different castes will help in formulating development schemes effectively as many of them have not benefited so far in line with their actual population.
When asked about the Prime Minister's stand on the issue, Kumar replied that the Prime Minister listened to the points of every leader.
"I was the one who addressed the Prime Minister first. I said that the proposal regarding caste-based census came from the leader of opposition in Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav and we all agreed on it. The Prime Minister listened to the points of every member of the delegation. We are expecting a positive outcome from the Prime Minister," Kumar said.
Tejashwi Yadav who addressed PM Narendra Modi during the meeting after Kumar reacted that "We are hopeful that the Prime Minister will allow conducting a caste-based census"' while reacting to media.
"Caste-based census should happen not only in Bihar, but in the entire nation. It will help proper diversion of resources. It is inevitable. It will be a historic measure in helping the poor. If animals and trees can be counted, then why not people on castes. When the government has no scientific data on the population, how can it make welfare policies," said Yadav.
When reporters asked Tejashwi whether the Prime Minister would turn down their call, CM Nitish Kumar intervened and said, "It is too early to come to a conclusion. Let's wait for the decision of the Prime Minister."
Speaking to reporters, both Kumar and Yadav referred to the statement of a Union minister, a reference to Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai's reply in Rajya Sabha that there was no proposal for releasing caste-based population data, with the chief minister saying it triggered "unrest" among people.
Asked if Kumar's JD(U), which is part of the BJP-led NDA, and the RJD are coming closer, Yadav said the opposition in Bihar has always supported the government over pro-people measures and those in national interest "Once caste census is carried out, then we will get to know actual information about all castes. Development work for them can then be taken up effectively," he said.
Noting the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are counted and census also includes data about different religions, Yadav asked why then others cannot be counted.
With critics claiming that caste census may fuel casteism and animosity, he noted that census based on people's religious affiliations had never caused any violence.
A caste census will help the government find out who are the poorest people, and measures can be then taken to help them, the RJD leader said, adding that their demand was not specific to Bihar but for a nationwide counting of people of different castes.
Kumar and Yadav also thanked Modi for the meeting.
BJP's Janak Ram, who was part of the delegation, said Modi heard out everyone's view like the "guardian of a family". Everyone was "satisfied" and the prime minister's decision will be acceptable to all, he added.
With census being the Union's prerogative, it is now up to the Centre to take a call on the demand made by many parties, mostly those who draw their core support from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The issue of a caste-based census has been a longstanding demand of the political parties in Bihar. The Bihar legislature had twice unanimously passed resolutions for the caste-based census in 2019 and 2020. On both the occasions, all BJP MLAs had also voted in support of a caste based census.
Caste-based Census other than for SCs and STs has not been undertaken in the country after 1931.