The demand for a caste census came into the fore during the Mandal Commission Report. It was highlighted that our data is not adequate so at the next Census which was to come in 2001 we should have caste census. In 2001, the Vajpayee government had the mandate of the previous Deve Gowda government. There was a Cabinet note that Caste Census will be done, but Vajpayee scuttled it saying it would lead to caste biases.
The next opportunity was in 2011. The Lok Sabha had arrived at a full consensus in June 2010 when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the commitment on the floor of the Parliament.
But it was a mistake to initiate a separate Socio-economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011 instead of adding a column in the decadal Census. The preliminary data of the SECC was first shared by Arun Jaitely in 2015 with the caveat that there were many anomalies. So, the Union Government set up of an expert group under the chairmanship of Arvind Panagariya, then vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, to classify and compile the caste data thrown up by SECC.
Unfortunately, in 2016 post demonetisation, Mr Panagariya felt that India’s economy was doomed, and he did not want to have anything to do with the disgraceful economic situation. So, he left India to take up a teaching job in Columbia University. As a result, Panagariya committee did not meet even for a day and the Census data could never be made public.
Before 2019 elections Rajnath Singh made a public statement that OBC census would be done, because they needed the OBC votes, but now that the time has come, they are again avoiding it. Historically, the BJP governments have appeared thrice as the villain in the way of the caste census. This, when it is one of those rare issues on which all parties have a consensus.
Without the caste census we are relying upon a 90 year old data to formulate our policy. If we miss it this year, we would be relying upon a 100 year old data. Meanwhile, there are various caste based agitations like the Jaats, Marathas, Gujjars, Kapu, Vaniyar, etc and the negotiations are based upon either power or bullets in absence of data to back any demand one way or the other. There is the issue of OBC bifurcation to ascertain which of the castes among OBCs are more deprived. Without census, how would you know?
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