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Centre does a U-turn in caste-based census

By Renu Mittal
May 08, 2010 01:01 IST
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With the Centre taking a U-turn on caste-based census and agreeing to include it as a part of the ongoing census exercise, an angry P Chidambaram virtually walked out of the Lok Sabha and did not return even for Vande Mataram recital when the House came to a close after the eventful Budget session.

Even as Chidambaram had to eat humble pie, it was Pranab Mukherjee whose writ ran with the party leadership on going along with a caste-based census and who was seen beaming at the end of the day. As members from all sections of the house including the Yadavs, the Opposition and Congress, came to congratulate Sonia Gandhi for agreeing to a caste-based census she pointed at Pranab Mukherjee and told members to thank him and congratulate him.

While Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh told the House that the government had taken note of the views of members of all sections of the House and that the Cabinet would respond to the demand, it was Pranab Mukherjee who said that the government would include caste-based survey in the ongoing Census.

Speaking outside the house, Mukherjee said it was just a question of including one more column in the ongoing
Census exercise and said that only 10 per cent of the work had so far been completed so it did not matter that caste was now being included.

The government has made it clear that this exercise would just be as a headcount and would not in any way be anything more than this since the exercise to establish the actual castes or nationality or whatever would be taken up as a separate exercise.

Sources said the main reason for the government's U-turn was the practical necessity of running a house in which the ruling combine has only 271 members and where the government would like to keep the Yadav brotherhood on their side as otherwise it was becoming difficult to run the House and bring in any legislation.

Late last night, Mukherjee met Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav where an understanding appears to have been reached whereby the government would agree to a caste-based census and on their part, the Yadavs would not oppose the introduction of the nuclear liability bill which had been kept in limbo as the numbers were not adding up and which the prime minister was very keen that it should at least be introduced and then sent to the standing committee. It was only after 10.30 pm that the introduction of the nuclear liability bill was added in the Lok Sabha agenda and list of business which was put out.

Sources say that it was Mukherjee who ensured that P Chidambaram did not move the foreign contribution bill in the Rajya Sabha which had been listed in the business for the next day, but which did not come up. It is learnt that the government felt it would be treading on too many ties and create further controversy at a time when the government was trying to win friends and neutralize its foes, and this bill they felt would open another Pandora's Box and so it was decided that it should be shelved for the time being.

The Budget Session of Parliament began on February 22 with the Opposition threatening to move cut motions and bring down the government. It has ended on May 7, with all sections of the Lok Sabha assembling around the trio of Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and Dr Manmohan Singh and congratulating them with a great deal of back slapping, bonhomie and members giving the thumps-up sign.

Much of this change is being credited to the performance and persuasive powers of Pranab Mukherjee who has once again emerged as the man calling the shots in the government, leaving Chidambaram to once again lick his wounds and recoup from yet another set back after Telangana and Dantewada.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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