Caste census: Nitish, Tejashwi for special Bihar Assembly session to overturn Patna HC stay

The two leaders are seeking legal opinion for drafting a resolution to be moved in the Bihar assembly, “possibly sometime within this month”, to go ahead with the caste-based survey

Nitish Kumar

The Nitish Kumar-led ruling coalition is “seriously contemplating” convening a special day-long session of the Bihar Assembly to overturn the effect of the interim stay imposed by the Patna High Court on the state government’s decision to conduct caste-based enumeration in Bihar.

Sources in the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance government told The Federal that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav are seeking legal opinion for drafting a resolution to be moved in the Bihar assembly, “possibly sometime within this month”, to go ahead with the caste-based survey.

It is, however, not clear as yet whether the resolution would merely reiterate the state government’s commitment towards conducting a caste survey or also be a precursor to actually restarting the process. “All options are being discussed,” sources said.

Also read: Nitish Kumar piqued over opposition to caste headcount in Bihar

Setback to Grand Alliance

In a setback to constituents of the state’s ruling Grand Alliance, a Patna High Court Bench of Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad had, on Thursday (May 4), ruled that “the State has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, in the manner in which it is fashioned now, which would amount to a census, thus impinging upon the legislative power of the Union Parliament.”

Imposing an interim stay on the survey, the Bench had said that the stated intent of the state government, per its notification, to share data collected during the caste-survey with the leaders of different parties of the State Assembly was “matter of great concern.”

The court’s order had brought much cheer to the BJP, which is the principal Opposition in Bihar. A significant section of the BJP’s Bihar leadership has been wary of opposing the caste enumeration as it feels this would not play well with the electorate in a state where caste identity politics tends to determine electoral outcomes.

At an all-party meeting that Nitish had convened before proceeding with the caste enumeration, the state BJP had, thus, decided to not oppose the move. However, with the Narendra Modi government choosing to remain non-committal on demands by the Opposition for a caste-based census of the country, the Kumar and his alliance partners have been accusing the BJP of double standards on the issue.

BJP’s conundrum

As such, the Bihar BJP has been struggling to politically counter the state government’s decision amid growing concerns that the exercise would consolidate Bihar’s formidable OBC and Dalit vote banks in favour of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Sources privy to the discussions “at the highest level of the state government”, told The Federal that the CM and his deputy saw the Patna HC’s order as an “institutional roadblock”.

Also read: Kharge writes to PM Modi, seeks caste census for sake of social justice

“We do not agree with the reasoning given by the Hon’ble High Court for granting an interim stay. The CM and the Deputy CM are exploring legal options, including convening a special session of the Assembly to pass a resolution stating that the survey will carry on. Those in the BJP who are cheering the court’s decision must know that the caste-based survey is an article of faith for us and we will go ahead with it no matter how many hurdles, political or institutional, come in our way… if they dare, they can oppose us on this,” a senior leader of the ruling coalition told The Federal.

State govt’s view

The state government is expected to push the view that while the High Court is “certainly correct in noting that conducting a census is the prerogative of the Union government, what we are carrying out is a survey, the findings of which are essential for effective governance and to ensure that we are able to better execute our constitutionally-mandated duty of social welfare,” another key leader in the Nitish Kumar government said.

Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, who had taken up the survey as a poll promise even before Kumar broke the BJP-JD(U) alliance and returned to the Grand Alliance to give his support to the caste-based enumeration, has already reacted sharply to the High Court’s order and the BJP’s reaction to it.

“Our government is fully committed to conducting the caste survey and we will go ahead with it; governments need scientific data to ensure that its welfare programmes for alleviation of poverty, economic backwardness and unemployment are targeted towards those who need these the most and a caste-based enumeration of the population is the only way for this to be accomplished,” Tejashwi said.

Building consensus

Sources said Nitish, who is currently engaged with the project of bringing together disparate Opposition parties for building an anti-BJP front ahead of the next general election, will also implore leaders of these parties to initiate the process of a caste survey in whichever state they currently rule. He is already in the process of finalising plans for an Opposition shivir in Patna, dates for which sources say may be confirmed after results for the Karnataka assembly polls are announced on May 13.

Incidentally, caste enumeration in the state – and eventually at the central level too – is also a key promise made by the Congress in Karnataka with former party chief Rahul Gandhi personally leading this push with his ‘Jitni Aabadi, Utna Haq’ slogan.

“Building consensus on the caste census is definitely going to be at the top of the agenda of the joint Opposition meeting. Most Opposition parties, including the Congress, have already agreed on it and we are sure others who haven’t taken a public stand in its favour, so far, will also come on board… if the BJP favours caste survey, we dare BJP CMs to go ahead with it in their respective states since the national population enumeration exercise has already been delayed by two years now,” a leader close to Nitish said.

Also watch: As Stalin-led Opposition pushes for caste census, BJP isn’t far behind

The Grand Alliance is also hoping that its belligerent stand in favour of caste enumeration, despite a prohibitive order by the high court, would “establish its intent for carrying out the exercise”. Leaders from the RJD and JD(U) also feel that by raising the political pitch on this issue of social justice through caste enumeration, they may be able to numb the sting of the controversy triggered by the CM’s recent decision to grant remission of jail term to former MP Anand Mohan Singh, who had been serving life imprisonment for the past 14 years for instigating the murder of Gopalganj district magistrate, G Krishnaiah, a Dalit, in 1994.