Rahul Gandhi calling for caste census has multiple political dimensions and also implications. Of course, its immediate move aims at estrangement of the OBC, EBC and other backward castes voters from the influence of the politics of Hindutva of RSS and Narendra Modi, but it has a far-reaching mission to transform the ideological and philosophical outreach and orientation of the Congress.
Undoubtedly with the Lok Sabha elections knocking at the door, immediate electoral gain has been the conjuring factor, but more than it, this is a strategic move of Rahul Gandhi to project the Congress as a “left to the centre” party which is raring to fill the leftist slot lying vacant. Rahul has been pursuing the populist politics of identifying with the proletariat, downtrodden, daily wage earners and poor section of the society, purely with the aim of sending the message to his party leaders and especially to the people of the country that a new Congress has been emerging fast, which is different from the traditional Congress which believed in the political ethos of peaceful coexistence; where even extreme rightist leaders could coexist with hard core socialists and leftists.
Having caste census is of big importance for outwitting the BJP at the polls, but at the same time it would prove to be a major political indicator for evolving the policy and programmes of the party. It is a bare fact that unequal distribution of wealth, resources and education has meant an acute shortage of purchasing power among the majority of Indians. Obviously caste census would help the policy makers to address these issues in a democratic, scientific and objective manner.
It is indeed a matter of shame that India which has a large number of affirmative action programmes, has no fundamental caste data on educational, social, land and economic profile of castes. The arguments advanced against caste census are ridiculous. The Modi government only recently came out with the argument that any kind of effort in this direction would be a major reversal of our national policy, because India has never collected data on caste since 1931. This is again a ridiculous alibi. Modi is always in a hurry to change the statutes and even constitutional provisions in an undemocratic manner.
Yet another ludicrous argument is being forwarded; the caste census would lead to a clamour for higher quotas, and removal of the 50 per cent cap on reservations. This objection true enough strongly argues for census. Unless it is carried out how could the country known that the present reservation is sufficient. Basically this is the reason that Rahul said in Madhya Pradesh only two days; he wanted to do an X-ray and MRI of India by conducting a caste census to enable the participation of all. “We want the participation of all. This is India of all, not of a few industrialists. Right after our government comes to power, we will conduct a caste census and will inform everybody how many are OBC, SC, ST and general,” said Gandhi.
Though the RSS and BJP have been claiming to be benefactors for OBC, EBS and poor, they do not treat these sections as equals to the upper castes. In this backdrop his assertion, “India is run by 90 officers (cabinet secretary and secretary to the Government of India). They decide where the money will go. But, among these, only three officers are from OBC. OBC officers have only 5% participation in the entire budget of India of ₹4500000 crore. Whereas, the OBC population in India is 50%”, deserves serious attention.
Undeniably RSS and central government officers were framing the laws for the benefit of the upper caste feudal lords, Brahminical order and for the elements who exploit the poor. Naturally his message; “it was a fight between two ideologies. On one side is Congress, on the other side is RSS and the BJP. On one side there is Gandhiji, on the other side, Godse. On one side there is hatred, violence, and ego and on the other side, there is love, respect and brotherhood” has been received well at the grass root level.
This is enough to turn the RSS, especially its chief Mohan Bhagwat, the architect of this philosophy and Modi shaky. It is indeed strange how could RSS and BJP which claim to be saviour of the OBC, EBC and other Dalits would oppose conducting caste census which plays such a dominant role in our social, economic and political life, no credible and comprehensive caste data exists for more than half the population of our country.
On Monday Nitish Kumar government released findings of its much-awaited caste survey which revealed that OBCs and EBCs constitute around 70 per cent of the state’s total population. But ironically the benefits of the government schemes and projects were not reaching out to them in that proportion. In a state having 13.07 crore population, the Extremely Backward Classes (36 per cent) were the largest social segment followed by the Other Backward Classes at 27.13 per cent. The “upper castes” who dominated politics comprise 15.52 per cent of the total population.
The survey also stated that Yadavs, the OBC group to which Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav belongs, were the largest in terms of the population, accounting for 14.27 per cent of the total. Dalits, also known as the Scheduled Castes, accounted for 19.65 per cent of the total population in the state, which is also home to nearly 22 lakh (1.68 per cent) people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Muslims constitute around 18 percent.
Just after release of the census report, the RSS and BJP leaders have started casting aspersions on the survey and alleging that the enumerators were biased. They claim that the report does not reflect the ground realities. True enough the revelation has turned them nervous. They are apprehensive that this would badly affect their poll prospect as the OBCs which still are with them may prefer to switch over their loyalty to the mahagathbandhan.
When the BJP was in opposition in 2010, the party backed the demand for caste-based census. In September 2018, just few months before the 2019 general elections, the then home minister Rajnath Singh announced in parliament that the 2021 census will carry data on the Other Backward Castes. But now the Narendra Modi-led government has turned reluctant. The wealth accumulation by the upper castes does not commensurate with their population. Among upper caste groups, Brahmins earned 48% above the national average while non-Brahmin upper caste earned 45%. On the other hand, Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Castes earned 34% and 21% less than the national average respectively. OBC groups earned 8% less than the national average. In matters of wealth ownership: 50% of the Brahmin, 31% of Rajputs, 44% of Bania and 57% of Kayasth fall in richest category. For other caste groups, only 5% ST, 10% SC and 16% OBC fall in richest category.
The study presented in a paper titled, ‘Wealth Ownership and Inequality in India: A Socio-religious Analysis’ published in 2018 concluded that, “…of the total [national] assets, the highest 41% is owned by upper caste Hindus followed by 31% by OBC groups, whereas the lowest among STs and SCs, each owning 3.7% and 7.6% of the total assets, respectively”. If these increasing inequalities have to be bridged, having caste based data is necessary.
The reservation system will get a big and perhaps the decisive blow as the demands for restructuring the present configuration of reservation system, which is based on 90-year old data, will grow.
Rahul Gandhi, in an election speech in Karnataka had coined a slogan, “Jitni abaadi utna haq” (JAUH). He repeated it in Madhya Pradesh. He is aware that while it would put the RSS and BJP in an embarrassing situation, it would create discomfiture for the rightist and feudal elements in Congress. The new idea, rather the political narrative would dictate the future politics of the party. Already as signs are visible, the OBC and EBC have started shifting their loyalty to Congress. His articulation: If 70 per cent of Indians belong to the OBC/SC/ST castes, then their representation in various professions and sectors should also roughly be 70 per cent, has caught the imagination of people of these sections.
Gandhi intends to send the message that under JAUH 8,000 out of the 11,310 senior officers in public sector banks should be from the OBC/SC/ST castes. But in reality, only 3,000 are. Or 70 out of the 104 startup unicorns should have been founded by people from OBC/SC/ST castes. But none are. Or there should be 225 joint secretaries and secretaries in the government of India from these castes. Only 68 are. On the other hand, 80 per cent of the 154 million workers in the MGNREGA programme are OBC/SC/STs. All the 60,000 Indians who do manual scavenging are Dalits or tribals — 75 per cent of the 44,000 safai karmacharis in the government are from these communities.
Rahul’s public admission that Congress has committed blunder in not carrying out reservation for OBC women has also been well received by the OBCs and EBCs. They perceive that he is honest and is even prepared to go to any extent to help the poor. Little doubt since caste is a reason for discrimination and inequality in India, its impact should be monitored through a comprehensive enumeration of all castes. A caste-wise breakup of the population in the census will enable a cross-sectional understanding of how castes interact with social, economic, cultural and demographic characteristics.
Quite interestingly the recent speeches and even writings of Rahul reflect borrowing the ideas and ideology from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. He also said: “Some kind of ethical approach to life has a strong appeal for me, though it would be difficult for me to justify it logically. I have been attracted by Gandhiji’s stress on right means and I think one of his greatest contributions to our public life has been this emphasis. (IPA Service)