Hyderabad: Caste census is not likely to become a major poll issue in Telangana, where assembly elections are scheduled next month.
As caste has never been a major factor in elections in Telangana, the national debate surrounding the caste census may not find an echo here.
Though the Congress party’s demand that the state government conduct the caste census is seen as an attempt to woo the voters from the backward classes, the party may not build a narrative around it.
The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) has already favoured a caste census but its leaders too are not inclined to turn it into a poll issue.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president A. Revanth Reddy had demanded that the state government hold a caste census to determine the population of BCs on the lines of a recent survey done in Bihar.
In an open letter to Chief Minister K. Chandrasekar Rao, Revanth Reddy said that only a caste census would ensure social, economic, and political justice for the BCs.
“There has been a long pending demand from BCs in the state for holding caste-wise census. The Congress also extended complete support to their demand,” Reddy said.
“Even 75 years after Independence, there is not much improvement in the condition of BCs, who comprise more than half of India’s population,” claimed the Congress leader.
He believes that the BCs are lagging behind socially and economically as governments still rely on the census figures released by the British government in India to determine the BC population.
“If a caste census is done, the governments will have the opportunity to implement reservations for BCs in education and employment more effectively,” Revanth Reddy said in the letter to KCR.
The BRS, however, has questioned the timing of the demand. BRS leader K. Kavitha questioned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on why his party failed to take up the BC caste census even though it was in power for 60 years.
“The Congress did not think about this issue during its 60-year rule. Why is Rahul Gandhi talking about it now?,” asked Kavitha, who is the daughter of KCR.
“It is up to the people to find out the intentions and the agenda behind Rahul Gandhi’s new-found interest in the subject,” the BRS MLC told a public meeting in Nizamabad last week.
While BRS has taken a stand in support of a caste census, it is treading cautiously on the issue.
“It’s a non-issue as far as Telangana is concerned. When there is no demand from the people, BRS is not likely to make any commitment which can unnecessarily create problems for it,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
He pointed out that the TRS government had collected the data during the Samagra Kutumba Survey (comprehensive household survey) in 2014 after it came to power in the state.
Though the data was not made public, KCR played his politics well by using the data to devise caste-specific schemes. He launched various schemes to help BC communities engaged in various professions like sheep rearing, fishing, and as barbers and washermen.
He apparently started raising the demand for a nationwide caste census of BCs with an eye on national politics.
It was in October 2021 that the Telangana Assembly had passed a resolution seeking a caste wise census of the Backward Classes while holding the general census for 2021.
KCR had told the Assembly that BCs constitute nearly 50 per cent of Telangana’s population. He pointed out that various political parties and state assemblies in the country had passed resolutions seeking a caste census
He had said that in view of the upliftment of the poorer sections of the society, it was necessary to maintain accurate statistics for taking various welfare measures for them.
KCR had argued that a caste census as part of the general census is necessary to identify the socially, economically and educationally backward communities and increase reservations proportionate to their population.
He claimed that people belonging to the backward classes and scheduled castes are also demanding a caste census. “The SC population was fixed at 15 percent long back but with authority, I can say that it has now crossed 17 per cent. In some states it has even crossed 19 percent,” he said.
KCR argued that a caste census of the backward classes would help in evolving appropriate policies and programmes for their welfare. “The Centre is saying it’s a sensitive issue. Why is it a sensitive issue. We have a caste system in the country. Why should we be ashamed of it? Are the governments not issuing caste certificates,” he had asked.
Analysts point out that what KCR had stated was all before the Congress party and its allies took up caste census as a key issue. Aiming for a hat-trick in power, KCR is likely to focus on the achievements during his last two terms and the alleged failures of the Congress and the BJP rather than making a non-issue in the state into an issue.
This may also give an issue to the BJP, which is already on the backfoot in Telangana after the defeat in neighbouring Karnataka. BJP state leaders are not speaking on the caste census, citing the clear stand taken by the central leadership of the party, which sees this as an attempt to divide people.
Addressing a public meeting in Nizamabad earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had targeted the Congress party and other constituents of the INDIA bloc over the caste census, saying that their new thinking of rights in proportion to population will do grave injustice to South India and backstab the minorities.