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Realpolitik behind Congress caste census, OBC push

Realpolitik behind Congress caste census, OBC push

Photo for representational purpose only.



Tribune News Service

Aditi Tandon

New Delhi, October 2

It was in May 2022 that the Congress, on a losing spree across states, officially backed the demand for a caste-based census for the first time.

Rethinking strategy

  • Changed electoral equations influenced Congress to rethink OBC politics
  • OBC support for Congress declined from 25% in 1996 to around 15% in 2019
  • It realised it could no longer ignore numerically most dominant social group
  • Congress rethink became even more pressing in view of PM Modi’s consistent OBC push

The support for the call, conventionally associated with Mandal parties — the JDU, RJD, SP, and DMK — was stated firmly in the Congress’ Udaipur Chintan Shivir declaration.

Bid to Divide Society

They played with emotions of the poor and divided society on caste lines. They are committing this sin even now.

— Narendra Modi, Prime Minister

In the same declaration the Congress also, in a first, eschewed past reservations to socialist parties’ demand for a quota within quota under the Women’s Reservation Bill — something the Congress reiterated during the passage of the Bill recently. The recalibration of strategy was neither sudden or unexpected for the Congress, which has progressively lost the support of major social groups across national election cycles.

Milestone achieved

We have achieved a milestone. It not only has caste-based data but also highlights economic status of people.

— Tejashwi Yadav, Bihar Deputy CM

The grand old party’s rethink on OBC politics began right after the 2019 Lok Sabha election results which revealed the ruling BJP’s further social and geographical expansion. The 2019 election result data showed that the BJP retained its upper caste votes and improved its performance among SCs, STs and OBCs. Where 19 per cent OBCs voted for the BJP in 1996 post the Mandal Commission implementation which jolted upper caste dominance in Indian politics for the first time, 44 per cent OBCs voted for the BJP in 2019. The party’s vote share among SCs and STs rose between the past two elections. In contrast, OBC support for the Congress declined from 25 per cent in 1996 to around 15 per cent in 2019. Congress’ support among SCs and STs also declined in comparison to 2014.

It’s mere eyewash

Caste survey is an eyewash. The state govt is cheating people by releasing data based on only a few castes.

— Giriraj Singh, BJP MP from Bihar

The changed electoral equations influenced the Congress to rethink, with the party convinced that it could no longer ignore the numerically most dominant social group in India which could well be comprising over half of the country’s population or perhaps more as the Bihar caste census has revealed. The Congress rethink became even more pressing in view of PM Narendra Modi’s consistent OBC push, including strategic expansion in political representation to them. This explains the Congress shift from the past when then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, despite setting up the first backward classes commission under Kaka Kalelkar, did not implement its recommendations.

Hold nationwide survey

Survey should be conducted across nation. BCs, SCs and minorities have been demanding it for a long time.

— Sanjay Singh, AAP Rajya Sabha MP

Later, the Janata Party government under PM Morarji Desai notified the second backward classes commission under BP Mandal in January 1979. It got two extensions under former PM Indira Gandhi, but its report was never implemented. The Mandal Commission report was finally implemented under a non-Congress government led by PM VP Singh and supported by the BJP. At the time of discussions on the Mandal Commission report, late PM Rajiv Gandhi vehemently opposed it in Parliament. However post-Mandal, the political equations changed rapidly with Congress insiders acknowledging that the situation with respect to OBCs has vastly altered. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA 2 government went on to commission the socio economic caste census, but party leaders say the report was not ready when the government was voted out. Later the ruling BJP government in September 2021 told the Supreme Court that conducting a caste census “will not be feasible and that exclusion of information regarding any other caste apart from the SCs and STs from the purview of the census was a conscious policy decision since 1951”.

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