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Govt Buckles, Agrees To Caste In 2011 Census

The stage is set for the inclusion of caste in the national headcount after a gap of 79 years after high-pressure lobbying by OBC satraps and an intervention by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi saw Prime
PTI May 08, 2010 9:28 IST
PTI
The stage is set for the inclusion of caste in the national headcount after a gap of 79 years after high-pressure lobbying by OBC satraps and an intervention by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promising a decision "soon", reports The Times of India.

The remarkable turnaround in the government's stand which even on Friday morning reflected caution with home minister P Chidambaram elaborating logistical and practical difficulties came about after Yadav leaders Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Sharad angrily rejected the minister's statement.

The Yadav trio, who had the support of a large majority in the House, felt that the home minister's promise that their views would be heard and kept in mind somewhat evasive and wanted a clear assurance on whether caste enumeration would be part of the ongoing census.

This prompted a quick intervention from Sonia who beckoned the Yadavs over on the floor of the Lok Sabha. She placated the OBC chieftains and this was followed by discussions in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's chamber. Shortly after, Singh told the Lok Sabha, "I am aware of the views of members belonging to all sections. I assure you that the Cabinet will take a decision soon."

Later, Mukherjee told reporters, "Yes, we will include it (caste) in this census." He added that it was not too late to add the criterion as part of the exercise rolled out on April 1. "It (the census) has just started. All we need to do is to include a column on OBC. There are already columns on General, SC/ST." He also rebuffed apprehensions that collection of data on caste would lack authenticity as people could lie about their castes.

The finance minister's statement made clear what had been indicated by the PM who stopped short of spelling out the specifics. It also pointed to the backstage parleys where an agreement on what Singh would tell the House had been hammered out.

The three Yadavs urged the Congress chief to take the initiative, and use the powers vested in her to clear the "confusion" caused by the home minister's statement. They are confident that the very next meeting of the Cabinet could take the decision to include caste in the census.

That would be a signal victory for OBC politicians who have been pressing for a caste count, confident that their numbers are significant and will help stake claim to greater political benefits. They also see the caste census as a step to breaching the 50% cap on quotas set by the Supreme Court while increasing the role of the already significant "backward" factor in politics.

While the housing survey is currently on, the actual headcount will begin from February next year. Though enumerators will record the answer to the question "what is your caste" without verifying it, the results of the census will bear an "official" stamp. Though not tested, the data will impact the future course of politics as backward groups base their demands on the basis of the numerical strength the census will throw up.

The backward population is claimed at 52% but the NSSO survey pegged it at 41%. The BPL survey by the ministry of rural development showed rural OBC population at around 38.5%.

While Chidambaram attempted to wriggle out of a ticklish position with a vague commitment to consider "the views of the House", the Yadav triumvirate aggressively lobbied Sonia, Singh and Mukherjee to see a clarification. This saw Sonia assuaging the Yadavs who have proved handy supporters for UPA despite the clash over the women's quota bill.

The PM obliged, saying "a decision will soon be taken by the Cabinet" and the outpouring of compliments from across the political divide showed that OBC leaders had eked out a major victory. It was then left to Mukherjee to clarify after the Budget session ended that the caste census was very much on.

The move concludes a serious onslaught by backward leaders who brought Parliament to a halt over the last few days to demand that the census include caste as a criteria to count the number of OBCs in the country.

The demand picked momentum through the week with an across-the-board consensus in its favour and the mood reflected in the Union Cabinet on Wednesday when a large section of ministers argued in favour of such a headcount.

Inclusion of caste in the census would mark a watershed in independent India where a conscious decision was taken not to enumerate castes except SCs and STs. As the census is the most authentic exercise in national headcount and profiling, results of OBC enumeration will carry weight which extrapolation of backwards on the basis of 1931 figures as done by the Mandal commission lacks.

It has triggered speculation on the implications of the country getting a relatively authentic figure of OBC share in national population. While the argument is that the figure is required to make proportional financial allocations for OBC welfare, there is a strong belief that it may lead to a demand for hiking OBC quota in jobs and education in the ratio of population. The figure of 52% as given by Mandal is highly disputed, but it is fairly safe to assume that OBC population will always be higher than 27% quota given to them.