Has the meeting of an all-party delegation from Bihar with Prime minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on Monday to press for a countrywide caste census thrown open the possibility of the realignment of the pro-Mandal parties at the national level and catapulted Chief Minister Nitish Kumar back on the centre-stage as a possible contender to lead a united front against the NDA ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
These are the two important questions that have come to the fore after Nitish led a delegation of ten parties to impress upon the Prime minister the need for a caste census to ameliorate the condition of the underdeveloped and marginalised sections of society. “The Prime minister gave us a patient hearing,” Nitish said after the meeting. “Now, it is for him to take the decision.” The Chief minister stresses the fact that all the parties in Bihar have been unanimous on the issue and the state legislature had, in fact, passed a resolution twice in this regard in 2019 and 2020. “That is why we decided to seek the time of the PM for the all-party delegation,” he says.
The Chief minister stresses the fact that all the parties in Bihar have been unanimous on the issue and the state legislature had, in fact, passed a resolution twice in this regard in 2019 and 2020. “That is why we decided to seek the time of the PM for the all-party delegation,” he says.
The delegation consisted of the leaders of various parties, including Congress, HAM-S, VIP, CPI-ML and AIMIM, but the focus was on the coming together of Nitish and Tejashwi for a common cause on a common platform, which is being seen as too politically significant to ignore under the present circumstances.
Firstly, it has given Nitish an opportunity to reposition himself after his drubbing in the 2020 state assembly elections, which saw BJP gain an upper hand in their alliance. Secondly, it has brought him back into the reckoning as a prospective contender to lead a united front of the Opposition in national politics before the next general elections.
Thirdly, it has helped him wrest the initiative back from Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, which had been raising the issue vociferously since the 2015 assembly elections. Above all, it appears to have the rekindled the hopes of the anti-BJP front, both in Bihar and outside, for a possibility of the coming together of JD(U)-RJD on the same platform again, if the Modi government decides to turn down the demand for the caste census ahead of the next parliamentary polls, if not the coming assembly polls in UP next year.
By agreeing to the Opposition’s demand to lead an all-party delegation and saying that there was some concern lately over a Union minister’s announcement in parliament that no separate caste census would be done this time, Nitish has dropped more than ample hints that his party is with the Opposition on this issue.
It has apparently put BJP in a spot. Even though the party has supported both the unanimous resolutions passed by the state legislature in the past couple of years, its stand at the national level apparently seems to be different. The party apparently knows it well that it cannot afford to be seen as being opposed to the demand, at least in the politics of caste-centric states like Bihar and UP. That is probably why it chose to send its representative as part of the all-party delegation that met PM today.
Senior party leader and Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi emphasises that BJP has never been against caste census as such and that it was part of both the unanimous resolutions passed in the state legislature. Ahead of the all-party delegation’s meeting with PM, he said that the then BJP MP Gopinath Munde had spelt out the party the party’s position in favour of the issue in Parliament in 2011.
Sushil says that the report of the socio-economic caste survey conducted during the UPA government could not subsequently be made public, as it contained ‘crores of errors’. He, however, insists that though there are several technical and practical problems in conducting caste census, the BJP in principle remains in support of the demand. Tejashwi, however, counters by saying that if the census on the basis of religion could be held in the country why cannot a caste census be done on the same lines?
Now, the all-important question is whether the PM will give the nod to the demand for the caste census in deference to the wishes of the Bihar’s delegation led by their ally, Nitish Kumar?
It may or may not be known soon. Nitish has put a ball in the BJP’s court, which the party may not find easy to hit out of the park.