An all-party meeting will be chaired by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar here next week to discuss the modalities for conducting a state-level census of castes, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary said.
He also said a missive to the effect has been sent to all political parties to send their representatives for the meeting scheduled on June 1.
"The meeting will be held at the chief minister's secretariat at 4 pm. Hopefully, all parties will attend and provide their inputs based on which the cabinet will pass the requisite order," Chaudhary said.
The demand for a fresh caste census has stirred the political atmosphere in Bihar for some time.
Initially, parties were of the view that it be conducted by the Centre. The last census of castes was held way back in 1921.
An all-party delegation, headed by the chief minister, had also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year to press the demand. However, the Union government finally expressed its inability to undertake the headcount of social groups other than the Dalits and the tribals.
This was resented by the numerically powerful Other Backward Classes, who dominate politics in Bihar, especially since the 1990s when the Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented.
It was, therefore, demanded that if the Centre was reluctant to do the needful, the state get a headcount of castes done at its own expense. Kumar, who is himself an OBC and product of the Mandal era, agreed to the demand.
The issue has, however, been hanging fire, apparently on account of the ambivalence shown by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the wake of its central leadership having turned down the demand for a national caste census.
Nonetheless, the BJP leadership has been at pains to underscore that it has never been opposed to a caste census and that its members had supported two resolutions passed by both houses of the state legislature, previously, in favour of the demand.
Against this backdrop, the state BJP president has also come out with a tweet explicitly stating that his party “will be attending” the meeting convened by the state government on June 1.
Meanwhile, the development has provided the opposition RJD with an occasion for some chest-thumping.
“Caste census became an issue after it was raised by our leader Tejashwi Yadav. His initiative had resulted in the delegation, of which he was a part, meeting the PM. And his relentless pursuit of the matter has forced the state government to stop dragging its feet and move forward," Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Shyam Rajak said.
A few days ago, the chief minister had indicated that the meeting could take place on May 27, though “some parties, not all” had agreed to the same.
The date may have got deferred in view of the fact that the major parties in the state, the CM's Janata Dal-United, BJP and RJD, currently have their hands full with biennial elections to five Rajya Sabha seats.
The parties are yet to come out with names of their respective candidates, which they must before May 31, the last date of filing of nominations.