The Congress believes that by mobilising the OBC community, it can counter the BJP effectively ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in which the saffron party will intensify its Hindutva politics. A report by Amit Agnihotri
The Congress is banking on ‘caste census’ to forge greater unity within the opposition alliance INDIA and counter the BJP ahead of the 2024 national polls.
The INDIA parties believe that a focus on OBC issues would help them win a maximum of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar and 80 seats in UP besides coming handy in other big states given the OBCs are roughly 50 percent of the total population.
Keeping this in mind, the Congress had supported the Bihar government’s move to conduct a state-wide caste census which is now ready and is being processed for publication.
The previous UPA government too had conducted a caste census but could not publish it before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls were held. Later, the BJP government which came to power did not publish the caste census data and also skipped the 2021 census which was supposed to be held 10 years after the 2011 census.
The Congress argues that for effective delivery of social welfare schemes, having the exact number of various sections of society is needed.
Though the grand old party has been demanding a fresh caste census for long, the Congress started playing up the issue to counter the BJP which was claiming credit for passing the Women’s Reservation Bill that promises 33 percent quota for women in the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies.
Former party chief Rahul Gandhi said the Women’s Reservation Bill was brought by the Centre suddenly during the Special Parliament Session from Sep 18-22 as a ploy to divert public attention from the caste census being demanded by him.
“The women’s reservation bill is not going to be implemented today, and every woman in India should understand this, it is going to be implemented 10 years from now. So, this is a diversionary tactic, it’s a way of making everyone’s attention move away. The question is what are they moving away from? And the answer is the caste census and I would like to explain why? In my research for my speech, I looked at how many officers in the Government of India, the senior most officers are Secretaries, how many Secretaries in the Government of India come from the OBC community? How many come from the Dalit community? How many come from the tribal community? And I was shocked to find that three officers in the government of India, Secretary level are OBC, first,” said Rahul.
“And then I asked another question, what budget do they control? And they control five percent of the budget. OBCs, Dalits, Tribals all put together, control six percent of the budget. Tribal’s control zero point one something of the budget. So, this is a shocking finding and I said this in Parliament. My point being that if OBCs are five percent of India, is that the amount of participation we want from the OBC community. So, the central question is how many OBCs are there in India? How many different communities are there in India? If we want to distribute power to the people of India, we have to know this number, otherwise we are working without data and so I placed this on the floor of the house and I said- Look! Please, tell us how many OBCs we have the data of, I know, because the government of India has already done the census and all this data is available. Why is the Prime Minister not releasing this data? And second, what is this delay in the census,” he said.
The former Congress chief demanded that the last caste census data should be released at once. The OBCs roughly constitute around 50 percent of the population but do not get enough representation in governance, the Congress says. The party believes that by mobilising the OBC community, it can counter the BJP effectively ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in which the saffron party will intensify its Hindutva politics.
“What was the BJP’s answer, a very interesting answer, that it doesn’t matter how many OBCs are in the government of India? What matters is that we have MPs, and MLAs who are OBC. No! That’s not the point because you can ask any MP, or any MLA, how much they participate in law making? How much they participate in, how the money in India is spent, they will tell you, there is no participation. So, it is almost as if, they keep placing these OBCs MPs/MLAs into the Vidhan Sabha from one side, and taking away the real power of the OBCs from the other side,” Rahul said.
“And as the Prime Minister keeps saying he is an OBC leader, I want him to explain, why only three OBCs are there in the government of India? And why the OBC community, which is the backbone of this country, is responsible for only five percent of the Union budget? They have not been able to answer this question. In fact, when I said it, I saw in their face the panic. Because this is the truth, this is what they are trying to distract India from. The fact that the large mass of Indian people do not have any power,” he said.
The Women’s Reservation Bill had been initially passed during the previous UPA government in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but could not sail through as Congress’ allies SP, RJD and even the BJP opposed the legislation.
The SP and the RJD had been demanding a quota of SC, ST and OBC women within the overall 33 percent reservation but the Congress did not subscribe to their views.
However, the Congress, which is spearheading the opposition block INDIA, recently tweaked its stand and demanded quota within quota in the women’s reservation bill.
“The INDIA parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and even DMK support our demand of quota for SC, ST and OBC within the overall 33 percent quota in the women’s reservation bill,” AICC OBC department chairman Ajay Yadav said.
“The INDIA alliance is one on this issue and we will keep pressing the demand for a fresh caste census over the coming days. The BJP may try to claim credit for passing the bill but the fact is that most parties supported the legislation in Parliament. Otherwise, getting such overwhelming support for the bill was not possible,” he said.
The head of AICC OBC department further said the party was not playing politics over the caste census and the quota within quota issues and was only pursuing its social justice agenda.
“You see, caste census has been on our social justice agenda and was included in the resolution passed at the Plenary Session in Raipur in February. How will social justice be delivered if we don’t have the numbers of various caste groups in the country? The UPA had conducted a caste census but the government has not published the data so far. When the INDIA bloc comes to power in 2024, we will get a fresh caste census done to ensure the issues of OBCs are addressed,” said Ajay Yadav.
“The quota within quota is needed because otherwise the SC, ST and OBC women will not be able to get the benefit of 33 percent reservation in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. The BJP has passed the bill but has not given any time line for it. We want the 33 percent quota to be implemented from the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
“The views expressed by Rahul ji are extremely important and clearly lay down what the party thinks and envisions,” AICC functionary Gurdeep Sappal said. He said the change in the Congress view over quota within quota is based on the experience of the past 17 years that the OBCs did not get sufficient representation in governance under different regimes.