A day after an all-party delegation led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met PM Modi to discuss caste census, Janata Dal (United) general secretary and national spokesperson KC Tyagi dispelled rumors that the JD (U) is warming up to the Opposition parties and said that it will continue to ally with BJP led NDA. Excerpts.
Q) After meeting with the PM, Nitish Kumar said that the ball is in the court of the PM. Are you hopeful of a positive outcome?
We are hopeful about the meeting. The Prime Minister gave a patient hearing to the 11- member delegation and he never countered our demands. We will wait for the PM’s reply. We are not in a hurry. The Central government has already taken many steps towards social justice. Inducting 27 OBC ministers in the recent reshuffle of the Cabinet and providing 27 percent reservation in NEET are some of the positive steps, hailed by all. The passage of the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, restoring the power of the states to draw their own list of OBCs were another significant step.
Q) What were the demands put forward by the delegation?
Our main demand is to conduct a nationwide caste census to assess the deprivation levels. “Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas” is a slogan coined by the Prime Minister and the BJP government. We are into the 75th year of Independence and people of the country want to know whether welfare schemes have reached the last man at the bottom of the pyramid. If it hasn’t reached them, we want to know the deprivation levels. A caste census will help to identify the economically and socially deprived sections. If they are not benefiting from the 27 percent reservation under the OBC quota, there is no harm in implementing more programs for them.
Q) Nitish Kumar even praised RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav for suggesting the idea of an all-party delegation. This has kicked up rumors of both parties warming up to each other.
You must not read much into it. That was a courtesy extended by both sides. Both the parties are the outfits of the social justice movement and it’s a good gesture for parliamentary democracy. Otherwise, we only see opposition and ruling parties engaged in mudslinging at each other.
Q) The coming together of JD (U) and Bihar opposition parties have also been interpreted as an attempt on Nitish Kumar’s part to reinvent himself as the PM candidate for 2024.
Nitish Kumar is not projecting himself as the PM candidate. He has the potential to become the Prime minister of the country. But there is no vacancy at the moment. We are with the NDA and its unanimous candidate is Mr. Modi. We are very comfortable in the NDA alliance and there is no question of joining forces with the opposition parties. Modi became the PM after holding the CM post for many years. Nitish also has a good image in Bihar for running the state in an efficient way.
Q) It is for the first time that the opposition parties and ruling parties have buried their differences and came together for a cause. How significant is the move?
This is for the first time that we all had come together to meet the PM. In 2018 and 2020, the state assembly has passed unanimous resolutions on the demand of a caste census. All the political parties who believe in social justice are together in this. Whether it’s DMK, BJD, CPI (M), TMC, YSRCP, or any party, they all demand caste census.
Q) But JD (U) is the ally of the BJP in the state and at the center.
Tomorrow, if there is tension between Pakistan and India, all parties will bury their differences and stand together. It is as simple as that. We are an ally of the NDA and will continue to be. Regarding the issue of social justice, even the BJP minister joined us in meeting the PM.
Q) Nitish Kumar joined the opposition parties in demanding a probe on the Pegasus row. There are also signs that all is not well in the state alliance with the BJP..
We are not aligned with the opposition parties. Regarding the discordant voices in the BJP-JDU alliance in the state, we don’t attach much importance to the comments made by local leaders.
Q) There is a fear that the demand for caste census will bring back Mandal politics once again...
We won’t see such agitations this time. I have witnessed huge protests against the Mandal commission in 1990s. We were not even allowed to enter Parliament House. But it’s different this time.
Q) The Centre constituted Justice Rohini commission in 2017 to examine sub-categorization. However, the commission has now been given 11 extensions. Do you think that without a caste census, the idea of sub-categorization would be a futile exercise?
Justice Rohini commission is for quota within the quota. Let the quota happens first. Bihar first implemented the Karpoori Thakur formula of sub-quota within OBC quota in 1978, in which reservations were given for Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) Backward Caste women in government jobs and educational institutions. In Uttar Pradesh, the Justice Raghvendra committee was formed to look into sub-categorization. Sub categorization is another matter, and we welcome it. It’s unfortunate that the Rohini Commission has been extended 11 times now.
Q) Caste census poses a challenge for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh too.
Therefore we hope that the PM will take initiative in counting the OBCs.
Q) Earlier, Nitish Kumar said that the state will conduct its own caste census if the Centre refuses to do so. Do you still stick to the stand?
If the central government is not willing for a caste survey, then we will use the option. Karnataka government has earlier conducted a state census.
Q) In 2011, the UPA government conducted a socio-economic caste census under pressure from social justice parties. However, the BJP government says it’s outdated and full of errors. Your take
We don’t want to turn the issue into a BJP versus Congress one.