Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Is BJD strategising to launch its 2024 political campaign right from now? Clues are galore over BJD's latest political chess play.

Significantly, the demand of caste-based enumeration is related to Census that will take place in 2021, and its findings will be out in year 2022; whereas elections are scheduled in April-May 2024.

Moreover, former US President Woodrow Wilson had once said prosperity is necessarily the first theme of a political campaign.

And BJD government spokesman and Law Minister Pratap Jena yesterday reading State Cabinet's decision of demanding caste based enumeration had stressed on the word 'Prosperity' of other backward classes and Socio-Economically Backward Castes (SEBCs).

Is the ruling party mulling to go to the 2024 elections on the plank of ensuring reservation for SEBC population in Odisha?

Why BJD would do so? This suits BJD to build a narrative around the issue by painting both national parties - BJP and Congress- as two sides of one coin. And it can mount aggressive campaign by going to the town saying Manmohan-led Congress government in 2011 census and Modi-led BJP government in 2021 census failed the SEBCs by not conducting OBC/SEBC census.

And CM Naveen on his part may announce a Backward Commission prior to 2024 elections, on the lines set up by Maharsahtra government to classify Marathas as backward, in order to dangle the carrot of SEBC reservation.

The party seemingly has exhausted all vote-magnets - cheap rice, Aahar to KALIA money. And eco slowdown gives it a little leeway to go for another mega populist card in 2024.

So, Naveen-led cabinet unanimously adopted a resolution to impress upon the Centre for an enumeration of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes and Other Backward Classes (SEBC/OBC) along with general census 2021.

Significantly, on August 2018, the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that Census 2021 will take up caste census, a first after 1931.

However, the 2021 schedule has been out now. A look at the 2021 Form reveals no such caste census in offing. The Census 2021 schedule clearly showed only three codes (1 for SC, 2 for ST and 3 for others) in 'column 13'. The BJD is demanding now to carry out caste enumeration in a separate format.

Why BJD picked up Caste Census? When in 2011, members cutting across party line demanded a caste census, the then Congress-led UPA government didn't oblige. Rather, decided to carry a SECC (Socio-Economic Caste Census) not under the Census Act 1948.

Even, during 2001 Census, the then NDA government led by AB Vajpayee had mulled over doing a caste census, only to abandon later.

Why UPA and NDA failed to carry out caste census? There could be political reasons that cannot be substantiated. But facts listed officially by Registrar General of India had been well put by the then Home Minister P Chidambram in 2011.

Quoting the Registrar-General, Chidambaram highlighted the bottlenecks regarding methodology, phonetic and spelling errors, stage of canvassing of caste, maintaining integrity of enumeration and doing an accurate headcount of population.

He explained, “The enumerator is not an investigator or verifier and pointed out that 21 lakh enumerators — mostly primary school teachers — had no training or expertise to classify the answer as OBC or otherwise.

Moreover, he added, “There is a Central list of OBCs and State-specific lists of OBCs. Some States do not have a list of OBCs while some have a list of OBCs and a sub-set called Most Backward Castes.”

It's exactly on the same issues Modi government didn't release the SECC 2011 carried out in 2015. The govt then had constituted a Committee under the then Niti Aayog chief Arvind Pangariya to settle the bottlenecks. Pangariya had relinquished as NITI chief and nothing is heard about the report.

The bottom line is knowing well that no party would dare this uncharted territory, BJD sees a silver lining in SEBCs for 2024 poll.