CERTAIN regional parties have a vested interest in perpetuating caste and sub caste identities as their entire politics revolves around vote banks based on castes and sub castes. It is, therefore, not surprising that SP, RJD and JD (U) are insisting on inclusion of castes and sub castes in the current census operations. Their calculation is that enumeration of castes and sub castes will accentuate caste-based divisions in the Hindu society that would enable them to strengthen and expand their vote banks. Obviously they are unmindful of the social cost of this insidious exercise in terms of social discords and conflicts.
The “liberal” crowd in the media and academia supports the demand on the premise that the data thus obtained would help formulations and monitoring of policies of social justice. They tend to forget that any action or legislation that accentuates caste and sub-caste identities are not in larger national and social interest. Initially, the Congress party was divided on the issue. It was heartening to listen to Union Home Minister P Chidambram in the Lower House talking about udesirability and impractibility of including caste in the current census operations. Although he didn’t take a principled stand against the demand, he underlined the fact that the Union and states had different lists of OBCs and that some states don’t have any list of OBCs while others have a sub list of most backwards.
The enumerator, he pointed out, was neither an investigator nor a verifier. Getting feed back from enumerated on their caste identities would require a background understanding that was, he insisted, beyond the capacity of census’ 21 lakh enumerators. One thought the problems in conducting a caste-based census will deter the Government from conceding the demand vociferously made by three Yadavas – Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav. However, that is not to be.
Several senior Congress Ministers and leaders, belonging to OBCs, are openly supporting the demand. The capitulation by the Prime Minister on the issue may have been the result of pressures brought to bear by the SP and RJD whose support the ruling party needs to have a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha. The Government could convincingly defeat the opposition cut motions on Finance Bill because these parties bailed out the Government from a tight situation by staging a walk out. There are reasons to believe that the Government used CBI as an instrument to manipulate the leaders of these parties. It is no coincidence that the CBI let off Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad in cases against them that were being enquired into by this largely Corrupt Bureau of Investigations. Having survived the cut motions with the help of regional outfits, the Congress party has gone an extra mile to appease the SP and RJD by conceding their demand on caste-based census.
What is more disturbing is the casual approach of the principal opposition party on this vital issue. One wonders if the issue had been discussed in some depth in the various party forums before the leadership made the statement that they had no objection to the demand. The party’s stand has caused great dismay and confusion amongst its cadres and sympathizers. BJP’s U-turn on the issue is astounding in view of the fact that the Home Ministry then presided over by LK Advani had outrightly rejected the proposal for caste-based census held in 2001. No one can deny that caste identifies are a stark reality that manifest in Hindu society in many ways. While accepting that reality, every nationalist has to move with extreme sensitivity to ensure that caste and regional identities shouldn’t become so pronounced that these overshadow the national identity. Any policy or action that tends to accentuate caste identifies run contrary to BJP’s core beliefs. The party has to sensitively handle its OBC leaders that are demanding caste-based census. Political leadership can’t ignore divergent streams in a large mass based yet ideology-driven party like the BJP. However, the quality of leadership in any party is measured by its capacity to resolve internal differences without compromising on the party’s core values and beliefs.
A group of prominent nationalists, including politicians, former civil servants, media persons and intellectuals, the other day organised a discussion on the topic in the national capital. They constituted themselves into a platform called Meri Jaati Hindustani (My caste is Hindustani) to launch a movement to motivate people to refuse to divulge their caste during census and to insist that their caste is Hindustani. It is an excellent suggestion that is similar to Amitabh Bachchan’s recent declaration that he had no other caste than being an Indian. Let there be countless initiatives by patriotic citizens to urge people to declare Hindu, Bharatiya, Indian or Hindustanti (As per their choice) as their caste. Founding fathers of the Constitution wanted to make India a casteless society. For this to happen we would have to revive the decades-old movement against use of caste or sub caste as surname. That would go a long way to mitigate the caste identities.
The mayhem caused by caste-based khaps that claims to be panchayats in parts of Haryana and Western UP must serve to caution the nation of the evil consequences of caste identities going overboard. These khaps don’t represent the entire village, only the dominant caste. These caste groups did play some social purpose in disciplining the community on issues like dowry and other social evils. But the manner in which these khaps have been in the recent past indulging in violence and other unlawful activities is totally unacceptable. No political party showed the courage to stand up against these khaps because of vote bank politics. Judiciary did. Confronted with legal action, they are now demanding amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act to stop intra-gotra marriages. There is no unanimity on this demand. Every person or organisation in a democracy has the right to make a demand for enactment of a law or an amendment to the any existing legislation. But no one, including the extra-legal khaps, has the right to take recourse to violence and unlawful activities.