U.P. Politics witnesses yet another resurgence of the caste genie in runup to 2024

Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attend a rally being addressed by the chief minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh state Yogi Adityanath (not pictured) during the foundation stone laying ceremony of the houses to be constructed under ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’, a government programme in Allahabad on December 26, 2021. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP)

Lucknow: In Uttar Pradesh, the caste census genie has once again broken free, but this time it’s in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Although while several political parties have long called for a caste-based census in the state, this time it has created a significant problem for the BJP, which is now in power.

Political analysts are certain that the BJP opposes a caste census because it may interfere with the saffron party’s efforts to mobilize Hindus. Caste politics is highly opposed by academics, who see it as a means to further polarize society along caste and sect lines for political benefit.

The opposition Samajwadi Party brought up the long-pending matter in the state legislative assembly on February 23, hoping for a direct response from the Yogi Adityanath-led administration. This gave the call for a caste census impetus.

“Why can’t we conduct a caste census if Bihar can? At the budget session, former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said that if elected to office, his party will finish the caste census within three months.

The topic of the census was mentioned at serial number 69 of the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, state agricultural minister Surya Pratap Shahi had responded to Yadav. The Census Act, 1948, and the Census Regulations, 1990, were both passed by the United government. The union government, not the state, had authority over the issue of conducting a census.

“UP is much ahead of Bihar,” Shahi said. We won’t let anyone turn UP into Bihar. We wouldn’t take the same route again.

His rapid response, however, did not persuade the opposition, and SP leaders knelt on the floor and abruptly staged a dharna, which ultimately caused the ‘question hour’ to be postponed for more than 30 minutes.

The reason the SP is bringing up this issue now, especially when the party had power in UP for a number of years and never considered conducting the caste census there, is a mystery. Political gurus immediately said, “That is only an effort to garner political mileage before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

In addition to being the most populous state, UP is also home to 66 scheduled castes (SC), over 75 other backward castes (OBC), and other sub-castes. Just a select few, notably the OBCs’ Yadav, Kurmi, Lodh, Rajbhar, Maurya, and Kushwaha and the SCs’ Jatav, Pasi, Valmiki, and Kori, have been able to obtain prominence along with the majority of political influence, financial resources, and governmental positions.

Moreover, according to Shashikant Pandey, chairman of the political science department at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, OBCs and SCs together make up around 60 to 70 percent of the state’s whole population.

The professor said that although caste-wise enumeration was last done in 1931 and that the same data was used for referencing dates, the tabulation of the SC-ST population was done at the time of the population census.

The SP has been the most outspoken advocate for a caste census in UP. The purpose of a caste census is to guarantee transparency, after all. Making policies won’t be successful until you have the numbers, facts, and foundation for resource allocation. The northeast (NE), which was recognized as a distinct category that needed to be increased, began receiving a separate portion of the union budget, and things there have altered significantly since then. Similar to this, there is a need to conduct a caste census, which is a long-standing demand and not an unexpected one, according to senior SP leader Abhishek Mishra.

According to SP spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary, “a caste-wise tabulation of the census is important to fulfill the purpose of social justice because without understanding the numerical strength of various castes, governments cannot develop and implement welfare measures for them in the proper manner.

The Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), Sanjay Nishad’s Nishad Party, Keshav Dev Maurya’s Mahan Dal, and Babu Singh Kushwaha’s Jan Adhikar Party, all tiny regional organizations run by OBC leaders, all publicly endorse the proposal for a caste-based census.

The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are perhaps the only significant political figures who have not yet taken a stance on this matter.

Political scientists, however, firmly feel that a caste-based census is nothing but a tool to gain political mileage and further polarize society along caste lines in the context of rising demand for one.

“When we learn of such requests, it is truly extremely bad. Why don’t political parties promote unity and cohesion among people rather than caste-based division? The time has come for political parties to alter their ideologies, and rather than dividing the populace in order to advance their own political interests, they ought to consider bringing it together, according to SK Dwivedi, a former chair of the political science department at the University of Lucknow.

Caste prejudice was reportedly declining on a social level as a result of individuals mixing, but political parties sometimes exacerbated this problem for political reasons, according to Dwivedi.

He said that, if implemented, the caste census will bring OBCs and SCs into the mainstream of development by helping the government plan and allocate welfare monies. Yet, he said, it might potentially exacerbate societal caste conflict.

The RSS, the BJP’s parent organization, has traditionally emphasized the need for Hindus to be together, but Dwivedi said that caste divisions would undermine this objective. The governing party is in a pickle over a caste census for the same reason, even though one is already underway in the neighboring state of Bihar.

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