Cong Guarantees Comprehensive Caste Census: What About Other Parties Which Raised Similar Demand Last Year?

The party also proposed removing the 50% cap on reservations and allocating budgetary funds for SC and ST communities in proportion to their population share.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge

New Delhi: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has renewed the party’s focus on conducting a caste census, sparking renewed debate on a topic that had previously waned. Interestingly, no other party appears inclined to discuss the issue despite it being a significant one if Bihar's caste survey of 2023 is taken into consideration.

The AICC president on March 16 outlined his party’s “commitment” to conducting a nationwide caste-wise enumeration, termed as ‘Ginati Karo’, to assess the socio-economic and political status of all communities. He highlighted the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s alleged denial of the mammoth exercise and stressed the importance of his party’s proposed comprehensive social, economic and caste census to revolutionize India’s affirmative action policy.

Kharge emphasised two guarantees: “Shramik Nyay”, focusing on the welfare of daily wagers, and “Hissedaryi Nyay”, aiming to extend benefits to communities based on their populations. This includes lifting the 50% cap on reservations to accommodate more communities and protecting the rights of adivasis over natural resources.

The party also proposed making budgetary allocations for the welfare of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities in proportion to their share in the population. Kharge asserted that the Congress stands by every promise made and pointed to its track record in states like Karnataka and Telangana as evidence of its commitment.

Interestingly, caste census is only finding its way into the political campaign of the Congress. When, in October 2023, Bihar became the first state in the last few years to carry out a caste survey, it became a matter of discussion for every Opposition party.

Mayawati, on the occasion of the death anniversary of Kanshiram (the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP) on October 9, 2023, stated, “The party once again demands that census/survey of the OBC (Other Backward Class) in Uttar Pradesh and at the national level be conducted. Anti-reservationists who deny this are the same casteist people who continuously conspire to make the reservation of SC and ST categories inactive and ineffective and do not even fill the backlog of their reservation….”

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At the same time, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav claimed that a caste-based census would “bring everyone together”. “The castes that were left behind, those who are not given respect and rights yet, and those who think that their population is more, but they are not getting anything according to it, I think caste-based census will integrate our society... All castes will get rights and respect,” he said.

But as the general election looms closer, it seems like all the other Opposition parties have forgotten their promises. Talking to The Mooknayak, Dr Ravindra Rana, an academician and senior journalist based in western Uttar Pradesh, explained why this might be the case.

“The BSP and the SP do not have a working cadre anymore. For the past few years, the vote percent of the BSP has been reducing, and the party is not being able to decide its candidates. Vote banks and resources have scattered. The electoral bond revelation also proves how financially strong the BJP is compared to these regional parties. And, perhaps, therefore, there is no clarity on the politics and ideology of regional parties,” he said.

Even Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, during whose tenure the survey was conducted and the results were made public, had talked about removing the reservation cap. The leader is now close-lipped on the very same discussion, after breaking ties with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and forming a coalition with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state and swearing in as the CM for the 9th time.

Rana added that in order to dilute the issue of caste census, BJP broke JD(U)-RJD coalition in Bihar because Nitish had not just implemented the survey but provided the Congress a platform to make it a nationwide issue.

According to him, the Congress wanted the INDIA bloc to be united under this issue, which visibly is not happening.

One could comment that at least the Congress is picking up caste as an electoral issue. But Dr Satish Prakash, a Dalit intellectual who teaches at Meerut College, Meerut is still not sure about the step.

For the last two years, the Congress has been talking about a caste census. Political parties have been raising the issue ahead of elections for the past few decades.

Questioning the party, he asked, “A caste census was carried out in 2011, but it P. Chidambaram (the then Union minister in the Congress government) who questioned the data. So, how can we be assured that this time, it will be different?”

Other Promises

Congress chief asserted that under “Shramik Nyay”, the party promises to increase daily wages, introduce an urban employment guarantee scheme, advocate for stricter enforcement of pro-labor laws and review “anti-labour” legislation enacted by the current government.

If the Congress forms the next government, Kharge announced a law, promising right-to-health, to protect the interests of workers and promised to raise minimum wages under the MGNREGA to Rs 400 per day.

He also pledged an urban employment guarantee scheme, a social security scheme and a review of the labour codes passed by the BJP government. 

Kharge, a trade union leader himself, criticised the Modi government for allegedly weakening laws and policies designed to protect labourers and workers, citing stagnant minimum wages and delays in MGNREGA payments.

The leader emphasized that the BJP government should have engaged in discussions with labour unions, business groups and other concerned stakeholders before implementing these laws.

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Bihar Caste Survey Findings

Released on October 2, 2023, the Bihar Caste Survey revealed that the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) make up 36.01% of the state’s total population, followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs) at 27.12%, SCs at 19.65% and STs at 1.68%. Additionally, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and Jains collectively form less than 1%.

The data reveals that the highest proportion of impoverished families is found among SCs and STs. Among SC communities, which represent 19.65% of Bihar's total population, 42.93% are classified as poor. Similarly, despite comprising only 1.68% of the state’s population, 42.7% of ST families are living in poverty.

For OBCs and EBCs, approximately 33.16% and 33.58% of families respectively are categorised as poor. While OBCs make up 27.13% of Bihar’s population, EBCs constitute 36.01%. Among the upper castes, which account for 15.52% of the population, 25.09% are classified as poor.

Notably, within OBCs, the Yadav caste has the highest percentage of impoverished families, with one-third of Yadavs (14.26% of Bihar’s population), living below the poverty line. Among SCs, Musahars face the most severe socio-economic challenges, with 54.56% of their families living in poverty.

Similarly, various other communities such as Bhuiyans, Doms and Bhogtas also have more than 50% of families living in poverty.

Among ‘upper’ castes, Bhumihars have the highest proportion of poor families, with 27.58% living below the poverty line despite constituting only 2.86% of the state’s population. A quarter of the Brahmin population and Rajputs are also classified as poor.

The data also sheds light on poverty within Muslim communities. Among EBCs, Shershahbadi and Dhuniya communities have 31.99% and 31.42% of families respectively living in poverty. Within backward classes, Surjapuri Muslims have the highest percentage of impoverished families at 29.33%.

Among ‘upper’ caste Muslims, Sheikh families have a poverty rate of 25.84%, while Pathans and Syeds have rates of 22.20% and 17.61% respectively.

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Importance of a Caste Based Survey

According to an article written by a professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies published in the Times of India, caste data plays a crucial role in understanding various aspects of Indian society, including labour market dynamics, wealth distribution and policy implementation.

It helps to uncover caste-based inequalities and their intersections with other identities such as class, gender and region. Accessible caste data is essential for government organizations, researchers and the public to address these disparities effectively.

In Indian society, caste has long been linked to occupations, with certain social groups traditionally holding advantages in accessing quality jobs and earning potential, while others are relegated to low-paying manual labour.

Despite three decades of economic growth, macro-level evidence suggests that caste-based occupational patterns persist.

According to the ‘State of Working India 2023’ report from Azim Premji University, there is a noticeable trend in job access, wages and earning outcomes.

A significant finding is the caste disparity in occupational mobility, with 87% of sons of casual workers from the SC/ST community remaining casual workers themselves in 2018. This percentage has shown little change since 2004. In contrast, the figure for upper castes dropped to 53%.

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