The Modi government has rejected demands of a caste-based Census in India. Many regional parties, including BJP’s allies, party MPs/MLAs and the Opposition have been demanding the same. The last caste-based Census was done in 1934, the results of one done in 2011 were never published as it was full of inconsistencies.
Socialist forces like Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United) have been requesting the government to include a column on OBC status just like SC/ST status in the 2021 Census.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party has resisted pressure and stood its ground on account of the following reasons:
1. Mentor RSS doesn’t believe in caste system
The BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh does not believe in the caste system. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat during a 3-day event in Delhi in 2018 echoed similar sentiments.
"We don't believe in caste discrimination. We don't ask a person's caste in Sangh. This [asking for a person's caste] is not a part of our culture," Bhagwat said. Sangh doesn’t believe in caste, but caste is a reality that we can’t ignore.
“We believe that caste-based reservations should continue till caste-based discrimination is there,” the RSS chief said. “... Sangh will work towards ending caste feud and caste differences among Hindus. Our agenda is to unite Hindus and not divide them by caste.”
2. Caste-based Census will push India back
We are in the 21st century and India is on the cusp of becoming a vishwaguru. We are the 6th largest economy in the world and have come a long way since our Independence 75 years ago. The dream of Prime Minister Modi is to make India a $5-trillion economy by 2025, which we would have achieved but for the pandemic.
At a time when we should be talking about “let’s do away with caste” we are talking about further dividing India along caste lines. It’s astonishing that some liberals (who are otherwise very progressive) are also supporting caste-based Census just for political gains, to create divisions with the society and see the Opposition defeat BJP in elections.
3. Class gaining prominence in policy making vs caste
Most of the schemes of the Modi government like Ujjwala, PM Awas, Ayushman, et cetera are not aimed at any particular caste group but towards the poor cutting across religious and caste lines. Economic status is fast emerging as the criteria for receipt of government benefits.
The government is also increasingly making policies and targeting programs keeping this in focus. There are poor among all sections of society. Taking this into cognisance, the Modi government introduced 10% reservations for the economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society from the general category.
4. Caste matters less in urban India & among youth
The urban middle class, once a preserve of the upper castes, has become more diverse with gradual entry of backward castes and Dalits due to the reservation program as urbanisation undermines caste. India’s burgeoning middle class, which is estimated to be anywhere between 28% to 43% (pre COVID estimates), depending upon which yardstick you use.
In a CSDS-Lokniti Youth survey, a majority of the respondents (51%) said that they were most proud of being Indian, identities like - caste (13%) religion (14%) and region (11%) scored much lower. Among youth, two in every five youth (40%) preferred to have economic status as the criterion for reservation and not caste. Acceptance of inter-caste marriage is high, having increased by 24%, from 31% in 2007 to 55% in 2016.
5. Time has come to end or replace reservations
Reservations were implemented for 10 years initially but have continued for 75 years after independence. A caste-based Census would lead to demand for more reservations when actually there is a debate in the country about whether it has fulfilled or failed in its purpose.
Even amongst Backward Classes, Dalits and tribals there is growing resentment about reservation benefitting only certain groups and not all. There is also a case being built about expanding the EWS (economically weaker sections) reservation and replacing / tweaking the current system with it.
To sum up, a caste-based Census could halt India in its tracks, hurting its chances of becoming a global superpower and the Modi government is right in rejecting such demands.