Bihar has launched perhaps the first exercise of its kind in India ever by embarking on a caste-based census. The Rs. 500-crore, two-phase door-to-door survey will cover an estimated 12.70 crore people. In the first phase which will end on January 21, all the households, estimated to be 2.5 crore, will be enumerated. The second phase which will end on May 31, will collect data on people’s place, caste, sub-caste, religion, number of family members, profession and annual income.
Though the Union government has dismissed the demand for a nation-wide caste-based census, there is a larger political consensus in the state on the exercise. The state Assembly passed unanimous resolutions twice, in 2018 and 2019, favoring a caste census. An all-party meeting in 2022 had also voted in favour of it though the BJP has of late voiced its concerns about its outcome. Those who favour it say it would lead to a reworking on the reservations for Other Backward Castes based on population data, as is done in the case of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and that it would benefit them.
Chief Minister and JD (United) leader Nitish Kumar has said the census data will have every minute detail of people, their households and other things and would be beneficial to the overall development of the state and the country. RJD leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav has called it a historic step that will help the government carry out development work that will benefit the poor and weaker sections of society. It will also provide data that will help the government launch welfare schemes for the people, he would argue.
The Bihar leaders are right in that accurate data is key to designing government policies and schemes. It would help allocate resources optimally and measure their impact, too. However, they are yet to explain why the rulers since independence have failed so miserably that Bihar languishes at the bottom of almost every index when it comes to human welfare while several other states, which once were grouped with it, made at least notional progress.
As per the reports of NITI Aayog, Bihar has largest share of population without electricity; it ranks 19 among 20 large Indian states when it comes to both quality of school education and in overall performance in healthcare. No wonder it is at the bottom of the 28 states and seven Union territories when it comes to sustainable development goals index, and at the top of the multi-dimensional poverty index which marks the percentage of population who are multi-dimensionally poor.
Bihar is one of the most politically conscious states in India, and its legacy goes back to the freedom movement days. After independence, while the Congress had run most states with an unquestionable mandate, Bihar played a fertile land for the Opposition, especially the Left brand of politics. The JP movement had its cradle in the state; people who claim allegiance to the socialist ideology have been in power in the state for the last four decades or more. None has helped the state make even baby steps to make its people cared for. It will be fully up to the sponsors of the caste census to demonstrate to the people of the state, and the nation at large, the difference it will make....