After being driven by in-house differences over inclusion of caste in Census, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday said it supports "canvassing" of caste in population enumeration and agreed with the government that it should be done in a manner which does not affect "integrity of the headcount".
The BJP, which was divided on inclusion of caste in Census with party president Nitin Gadkari and the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh opposed to the idea, took the decision to support inclusion of caste in the census at its Core Group meeting in New Delhi.
In its reply to a letter from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the Group of Ministers on the issue, seeking opinion of the party, BJP used the language identical to the one used by the Congress leader.
"The BJP had already clarified its stand in the Lok Sabha. The party reiterates that 'caste' can be canvassed in the on-going census/national population register exercise," Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj stated in the letter, reflecting the unanimity among political parties on including caste in ongoing census.
"We agree that caste should be canvassed in such manner and at such stage so that it does not affect the integrity of the headcount (census)," Swaraj further said in her reply.
Mukherjee had sought the opinion of BJP and other political parties on July 7 and set a one-month deadline. Mukherjee's letter had sought the opinion of the political party on two issues:
"Whether caste should be canvassed in the ongoing census/national population register exercise," and "if the....caste of the respondent should be canvassed in such manner and at such stage that it does not affect the integrity of the head count (census)?"
Though there were fissures in the party, the BJP had officially maintained till now that it supported inclusion of caste in census and its OBC face Gopinath Munde had taken this stand in the Lok Sabha. The stand was also endorsed by Swaraj.
Initially, the RSS did not favour this opinion as it felt enumerating caste was against its "basic ethos" of the country being one "nation" without any distinctions of caste, creed, language, region or religion.
However, after the BJP's explanation that going against inclusion of caste in census may antagonise OBC voters, who want to know their exact number as they are beneficiaries of reservation, the RSS gave its nod, but objected to enumeration under OBC category as is done for SCs and STs.
This message of the RSS was conveyed to BJP by its senior MPs from Madhya Pradesh, Sumitra Mahajan and Raghunandan Sharma nearly a fortnight ago.
"The BJP wants that a dedicated column be put in the census register to enumerate the caste of the person but is opposed to any categorisation under OBC," a senior BJP leader said.
A final decision in this regard was, however, arrived at today during the Core Group meeting.
"It was decided by the Core Group that the government can use the column of caste in the census whenever and wherever necessary and not disturbing the integrity of headcount," BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar said.
Kumar also asked the government to clarify its stand on the issue. "The government has not come out with the view of Congress and UPA allies on this issue. Cabinet will take a decision... Stand of Congress and UPA allies is still vague and confusing," he said.