A central theme in the caste census demand is the aspiration of OBC groups, and regional parties that draw strength from these sections, for a larger slice of the quota pie in keeping with representation in the population that exceeds the 27% reservation for backwards. BJP, too, has made a strong push for the OBC support that is seen as crucial in delivering two successive majorities in Lok Sabha and a government in UP. At the same time, BJP is required to balance this with the support it receives from the forwards who are also integral to the party’s support base.
The Centre is unlikely to announce a caste census in a hurry. The stalled regular census cannot be rejigged at present, given much of the process is online and altering codes is not easy. In the meanwhile, it is likely to indicate that the proposal could be under consideration post the regular census.
The Bihar CM’s move to lead a delegation, which included BJP, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to call for a caste census is seen as more than a political demand. It is felt the leader is looking to keep BJP off balance by prodding it to take a position on an issue where it needs to accommodate competing interests.
A push for a caste census can hardly be opposed by BJP and this was made plain by its senior leader from Bihar Sushil Modi who said the party has no reservations on this count. But the demand follows Nitish raising the Pegasus controversy at a time when BJP is locked in a bitter battle with the Opposition over the issue.
BJP leaders have also duly noted Kumar’s remarks crediting RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad for the idea of a delegation calling on the PM. The remarks are seen as intended to unsettle BJP by hinting he might have options outside NDA, despite JD(U)’s discord with RJD.
The chief minister’s moves are also being read within BJP as a fallout of JD(U) being reduced to a very junior partner in last year’s assembly polls. BJP’s determined push for OBC votes could cause concern that JD(U) might slip further in its core constituency should the saffron partner gain in this section.