Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party (SP) head Akhilesh Yadav has demanded caste census in UP.
Speaking during the Budget Session of the State Assembly, Akhilesh said, “If Bihar can have a caste census, why can’t we? Our party had promised that if voted to power, we will complete the caste census within three months”.
Agriculture Minister in UP cabinet, Surya Pratap Shahi, replied “The subject of census had been listed at serial number 69 of the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. The Union government has enacted the Census Act 1948 and Census Rules 1990. The subject of holding a census was within the purview of the Union government, not the state”.
Shahi further added that “UP is way ahead of Bihar. We will not make (a) Bihar out of UP. We would not return on the same path”.
SP leaders also interrupted the session by staging a dharna on Thursday (23 February) which led to the Question Hour being adjourned for more than half an hour.
Why is SP raising the issue now?
SP had been in power in the state for several years, most recently from 2012 to 2017 under Akhilesh Yadav. But a caste census, which would be used to determine/change the reservation policy of the state, was never conducted in that period.
Hence, the ruckus created by SP is viewed by many as political opportunism and aimed at upcoming local body polls and Lok Sabha elections.
It is seen by political observers as a bid to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva plank which has cut across caste lines in Uttar Pradesh.
UP-watchers also say that the SP leadership could be viewing caste polarisation as the only way forward for the party. The SP has lost the last two state assembly polls while performing miserably in the last two Lok Sabha elections as well.
BJP’s Hindutva plus development plank has helped them build an alliance cutting across caste and regional lines, while SP is struggling to even hold on to its traditional Yadav-Muslim voter base.
The near-universal coverage of welfare schemes in UP, especially the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which provided free ration to millions of poor in the state during the pandemic, has also dented caste politics in the state.
On the other end, both SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have now set themselves up to fight for the same voter base while desperately trying to hold on to their traditional Yadav and Jatav Dalit voter respectively.
Ironically, another SP leader Swami Prasad Maurya has been in the news talking about caste discrimination in the Ramcharitmanas, and faced severe opposition from leaders within his party itself.
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