Chorus for caste-based census within Cabinet
Subodh Ghildiyal, TNN, May 5, 2010, 03.06am IST
NEW DELHI: The demand for restoration of caste-based census got a
solid boost on Tuesday, with members of the Union Cabinet making a
forceful pitch for the enumeration of OBCs nationally.
A decision on the issue was deferred as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
stressed detailed discussions, and there are indications that
inclusion of caste as one of the criteria for the census may not be
possible for the exercise that is already underway.
But Tuesday's brainstorming was marked by a very strong push for
revival of caste-based census that was done away with after
Independence. There was opposition too, but it was not so vigorous,
with home minister P Chidambaram, one of the main opponents, citing
logistical constraints rather than ideological considerations that led
the founding fathers to scrap the caste count.
The remark of a Cabinet minister -- "it is an open issue" -- was
itself a testament to the success of the OBC establishment in
reopening what was once seen as an issue settled forever.
Even Chidambaram said that if deemed necessary, a caste count could be
handled by some other agency like the National Commission for Backward
Classes rather than being made a part of the decennial census.
Commerce minister Anand Sharma cautioned against repercussions of
reviving caste-based census that was "discontinued 70 years ago".
Social welfare minister Mukul Wasnik was another voice of opposition.
Those who argued strongly for the return of caste census included OBC
faces such as law minister Veerappa Moily, minister for overseas
affairs Vayalar Ravi, telecom minister A Raja and fertilizer minister
Alagiri. Their arguments were boosted by the backing of finance
minister Pranab Mukherjee. Urban development minister S Jaipal Reddy
was also vociferous in supporting the demand.
The development coincides with the strong demand in Parliament for
revival of caste census. On Monday, BJP and Left had joined OBC
leaders Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav to demand that
caste be brought back as a count criterion.
The developments in the Cabinet may provide a fillip to the advocacy
for caste-based census when Lok Sabha discusses it on Wednesday.
Within the government, law minister Moily has been in the forefront of
the pro-caste census move. Moily, as reported by TOI on September 15,
had written to the PM demanding that the ban on caste enumeration be
done away with. In the current instance, the law minister backed the
idea, saying that with so many development schemes being designed
around caste, the country needed "master data" on the "social reality
that cannot be wished away".
The home ministry, in its response, said inclusion of caste in the
current census may not be possible because enumeration had already
rolled out. It also pointed to the larger problem of counting people
on the basis of caste, because of migration and because those who are
"backward" in one state may not be so in another.
Chidambaram, however, failed to convince the backers of census who
said only the decennial census could meet the challenge of identifying
the caste of 100 crore people.
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