PATNA -- As the poll battle for Bihar intensifies, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav today called for a state-wide shutdown to press for the release of caste-census data, which he alleged, the central government was concealing.
The Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 is the first survey of caste in India since 1931. The Modi government released information on the economic and social aspects of the study, earlier this month, but did not disclose the caste data.
The enraged the RJD chief accused the Modi government of suppressing the data to avoid spending more on the backwards castes and to steer clear of providing more reservation, if their numbers were found to have grown.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has joined forces with Yadav in the state elections, has also backed Lalu's demand for the release of caste census.
Schools, colleges and markets were forced to close for the bandh on Monday. RJD workers wielding sticks bullied shop-owners into closing down, attacked vehicles and burned tyres on the roads. Some workers were spotted ripping off BJP campaign posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The RJD chief is expected to intensify his census battle ahead of the Bihar elections to be predictably fought on caste-lines and characterize Modi as a corporate cheerleader. While BJP has prominent Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi on its side, the RJD chief is still regarded as the messiah for the Yadav community in Bihar.
While it's fairly obvious that detailed information on caste will help politicians further identify their electorates, Yadav's camp says this is all part of a "social" revolution. "This is not about caste. This is a social revolution for equality and development," RJD spokesperson Shakti Yadav told HuffPost India. "Why are the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer in this country?"
But Shashi Sharma, head of the political science department at Patna University, noted that caste remains the critical factor in the Bihar elections. "Lalu Prasad Yadav is a caste leader and he would like to know whether the proportion of Yadavs have increased," she said.
Releasing the census data on July 3, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the survey did not contain caste data even though the name suggested it. "The name of the report indicates (caste), but caste is not reflected in our data... still the name is Socio Economic and Caste Census," he said.
But the government changed its stance after the uproar created in Bihar. Earlier this month, Jaitley said that the survey showed around 4.6 million castes, sub-castes and surnames existed in India, and the data would be released after being analysed by Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya.
Yadav has said that he will demand a separate budget for education and employment for backward castes.
While caste census is being used to score points in Bihar's election battle, experts warn that the release of this data will unleash a whole other set of problems that politicians are not anticipating.
Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist at the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, noted that the data will reveal the deep class and economic inequity within the castes. "This will be a major paradigm shift in the assessment of caste. There will be a rich, middle and poor Jat. So who will a politician help," he said.