“Jitni Aabadi Utna Haq”: What Rahul Gandhi’s Caste Census Means In Karnataka

Rahul Gandhi

However, in the context of Congress, this is the strongest ever pitch of Rahul Gandhi for the caste census. His slogan “Jitni Abadi, utna Haq”, has indicated that Congress is trying to reclaim the political space it had ceded to regional parties that sprouted and were strengthened on the back of Caste politics.

There’s a saying in Marathi. Jaat kadhi jaat nahi. Caste never goes away. While this is relevant even today in societal construct, it is also true to political construct, as Politics is a part of society. And certainly, it plays a very important role when it comes to elections.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who was in Karnataka’s Kolar on Sunday, as a part of the party’s election campaign demanded a caste census. He dared the govt o to release the caste census undertaken in 2011. He also demanded that the govt should do away with the 50% cap on reservations.

In the past Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar demanded for a nationwide caste census. The demand prominently came from Bihar as the state is home to political leaders who rose to power from the Mandal-Kamandal politics. But it is probably the first time that Rahul Gandhi has prominently made the demand for releasing the caste census. And it assumes much importance especially because of the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections.

Let us discuss this in today’s article. Why is caste census demand being made by Congress? Why now? And what is the impact of the demand on Karnataka?

For the first time after being disqualified from LokSabha Rahul Gandhi arrived in Kolar on Sunday. The choice of location was interesting. It was in Kolar that Rahul Gandhi 2019 made the statement that led to a defamation case against him and eventually cost him his parliamentary membership. Speaking at the Kolar event, Rahul Gandhi demanded that the Modi government should release the caste census. He stated that the people of the country should be informed about the percentage of OBCs, Dalits, and Adivasis.

“Prime Minister, you talk of OBCs. Make that data public. Let the nation know how many OBCs, Dalits and tribals are there in the country,” Gandhi said. Rahul Gandhi further stated that if the Prime Minister is genuinely concerned about the welfare of OBCs and SC/STs, he should release the data and implement reservations based on the caste census. Otherwise, it would be akin to the Prime Minister insulting the OBCs, Dalits, and Adivasi people.

The Congress leader also asked the Modi government to remove the current 50 percent reservation cap if he is really concerned about the OBCs, SC/STs.

He also pointed out that only 7 percent of secretaries in the central government are from Dalit, tribal, and OBC communities. He highlighted the need for representation from all communities in government positions, stating that secretaries are the backbone of the Government of India.

Shortly after his speech, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge wrote a letter to PM Modi demanding asking him for a comprehensive up-to-date caste census.  In the letter, Kharge said the UPA government conducted a Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) during 2011-12 but the data could not be published “even though Congress and other MPs demanded its release after your government came to power in May 2014.”

“In the absence of an updated Caste Census, I am afraid a reliable database so very essential for meaningful social justice and empowerment programs, particularly for OBCs, is incomplete. This Census is the responsibility of the Union Government,” the veteran Congress leader said. He also said that a population census was to be conducted in 2021  but it has still not been conducted yet.

Well, the demand for a caste census is not a new one. In the last few years, several political parties have raised the demand for conducting one. Earlier, Maharashtra’s MVA govt- Uddhav Thackeray led Shivsena, NCP, Congress, Nitish Kumar’s JDU, Lalu Yadav’s RJD, and MK Stalin’s DMK had raised the demand for a caste census. The demand was made against the backdrop of announcements of OBC and Backward Class reservation in panchayat Elections well as in govt jobs. The Maharashtra govt had moved to SC with the demand, but the Centre had told the court in 2021 that the Caste/tribe data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SeCC) 2011 is “flawed” and “is not usable”.

The Point is, the caste census is intricately linked to the reservation issue. Beyond politics, it has repercussions on the welfare programs implemented by the govt. The Directive Principles of State Policy, enshrined in Part IV of the Indian Constitution reflect that India is a welfare state. Many of the welfare schemes are based on caste identity. For example, reservations in govt jobs and educational institutes are given on the basis of caste identity.

What Are The Reservation Percentages provided In India?  

In The judgment on the Indra Sawhney case in 1992, a nine-judge bench decisively laid down several landmark propositions such as a 50% ceiling in reservations. Now, Quotas for Scheduled Castes (SCs), also called Dalits, —15 percent, and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) — 7.5 percent, are based on caste and tribal identities. The highest reservation mandate for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) at 27 percent. But Here’s the catch. While the percentage reservation given to SC and STs is proportionate to their population which is counted every 10 years in the census,  the reservation for OBCs is not based on their share in the population of India. OBC quota was fixed at 27 percent as it was the available space to keep the reservation cap at 50 percent.  Thus, opposition parties are demanding a caste census to ascertain the exact number of population under each caste, so that govt can form better welfare policies.

So, was Caste Census conducted In India before this?

The last published caste census was conducted in India way back in 1931. In 1941, the British conducted their last population census and it did collect caste data but then never published it. After Independence, Census 1951, the government collected and published caste data of only SCs and STs. This was followed by successive caste censuses until 2011. the Manmohan Singh government decided to collect caste data in Census 2011 as part of the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) but the data was never released. The absence of fresh caste census data means that the caste estimates of 1931 are being projected for formulating welfare policies. But while the central govt has kept mum on the issue, states like Bihar have already started their own caste census.

What Does Demand for Caste Census Means for Karnataka?

The demand for a caste census in Karnataka comes when the state BJP govt recently scrapped a separate quota for Muslims and increased the reservation given to the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities. The 4% reservation for Muslims under the OBC quota was scrapped and distributed equally among the Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities. The two communities have long held dominance and influence over many key constituencies in the state. The Muslim community will now be added to the EWS list and will be able to claim reservations as per the EWS criterion.

But the interesting part is, Like Bihar, Karnataka has already conducted a caste census. But it was way back in 2015 when Siddaramaiah was CM.  Karnataka ordered a Social and Educational Survey in 2014. the survey was conducted to enable the state government to decide on reservations and quotas in the OBC category. The survey was conducted in April and May of 2015 reportedly by a total of 1.6 lakh personnel, with 1.3 cr households in Karnataka surveyed. In April 2016, the Karnataka State Backward Classes Commission Chairperson said the report was in its final stages. However, later due to some issues, the report was never submitted.

However, in 2018, News 18 published a report on a caste census document seen by it. According to it, The Scheduled Castes (SCs) account for 19.5%. Muslims made up to16% of the population. Lingayats 14% and vokkaligas 11%. OBCs made up 20% out of which Kurubas alone was 7%. But there’s no official confirmation on this.

However, in the context of Congress, this is the strongest ever pitch of Rahul Gandhi for the caste census. His slogan “Jitni Abadi, utna Haq”, has indicated that Congress is trying to reclaim the political space it had ceded to regional parties that sprouted and were strengthened on the back of Caste politics. There have also been talks that caste politics could counter BJP’s Hindutva pitch. One has to see, how much Congress now keeps at it.

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