Sunday, May 9, 2010

Forward or backward? - India - The Times of India

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    • Subodh Ghildiyal
    • There is certainly a new vigour for mapping the OBC share in the country’s burgeoning population, which would turn the clock back on India that last saw a caste headcount in 1931. This time, there seems to be no stigma attached to a step like this which was earlier considered to be socially divisive.

      The political mood indicates its inevitability. Parliament saw national parties like the Congress and BJP back the call of OBC outfits, with even those not associated with backward politics like Akali Dal lending their voice to the rising pitch for OBC headcount. The biggest leap of faith came from the Left which made a proforma submission of “believing in class and not caste” before bowing to mounting political compulsions in the name of social welfare. Not one party called it a “retrograde move” that will set the country back, a stock argument till now.
    • The question, however, is: why this out-of-theblue demand for an OBC census? Especially when politics appears to be settled and backward quota is a reality that the upper castes have long reconciled to.
    • The demand will be for “proportional representation” in quotas. Else, there seems little justification in demanding the exact determination of OBC population.
    • “There are signs of a revival of backward politics, like during the Mandal days,” a leader said. Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, who are fighting for survival on their home turf, seem to be working towards consolidating backwards under a political umbrella, as they had done during their heydays. But not all OBC leaders are sure as they feel caste politics comes in layers just as caste itself falls in the labyrinthine logic of “Mishraon me Mishra” . A well-heeled backward leader from Tamil Nadu fears the move, which while giving political heft to outfits like RJD, SP, DMK, JD(U), may be a doubleedged sword. The concern is shared by another leader who feels a nationwide investigation on backward numbers may just reveal more than what is good for these parties. A caste survey, while intended to bring about a fresh backward consolidation, can actually sow seeds of fragmentation.

      “What if it is found that Yadavs or Kurmis have grabbed a much larger share of the reservation cake than their share in OBC population? Empirical revelations to this effect can trigger demands for subquotas from marginalised backwards ,” a leader said.
    • Caste census was done away after Independence because there was a desire to look beyond social divisions which made the leadership struggle in its attempt to forge a united challenge to the Raj. The advent of caste census in 1911 itself was a result of competing claims of divergent Muslim-Hindu interests as their population size would determine their representation in proposed bicameral legislatures.

      In 1901, the Aga Khan wrote to Lord Minto that the census enumerating religions gave inflated figures of Hindus because of inclusion of “animists and tribals” and “certain other communities which are classified as Hindus but were not” . This led to the division of Hindus in three parts — Hindus, animists/tribals and depressed classes/untouchables — from the 1911 census onwards.

      Now more than six decades later, there are political gains to be had in reviving the practice.

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