United on one front: Jagan for national caste census, so is Naidu

United on one front: Jagan for national caste census, so is Naidu

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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy steps up vigil after first Omicron case.

Mohammed Shafeeq

Amaravati, Oct 15 (IANS) Unlike Telangana, where caste is not a major factor in elections, Andhra Pradesh has always seen caste playing a key role.

The ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) has been demanding a nationwide caste-based economic census, while the main Opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is also backing the demand for a caste census with an eye on next year’s Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

With the actor-politician Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena Party (JSP), which is a constituent of the NDA, supporting the idea of a caste census, the BJP is completely isolated on the issue. Though both, the YSRCP and the TDP are not part of the Congress-led INDIA, their stand on the caste census is in consonance with the Opposition bloc.

Political analysts say the reasons for the stand taken by the ruling and the main Opposition party may be entirely different. The YSRCP, which claims to enjoy the support of the Backward Classes, may be looking to break the stranglehold of the Kammas and Kapus in certain districts in the state, said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy. According to him, unlike in Telangana there is a strong demand from the people for a caste-based census in Andhra Pradesh.

With politically powerful castes like Kammas and Kapus dominating elections in some districts in south coastal Andhra, the YSRCP may be looking to use the caste census to end their domination. Though dominated by the Reddys, the YSRCP claims to be enjoying the support of the SCs, STs and Backward Classes.

At an all-party meeting convened by the Centre ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, the YSRCP had reiterated its demand for a caste census. “The YSRCP demands a caste-based economic census to know the status of the Backward Classes, who have been left behind on social and developmental indicators,” YSRCP parliamentary party leader V Vijayasai Reddy had said.

The state Assembly in 2021 had adopted a resolution requesting the Centre to take up a caste-wise census among the Backward Classes. The ruling party pointed out that the caste census was last conducted in 1931. After 90 years, an accurate account of the population is required to plan and implement welfare programmes for Backward Classes.

While participating in the discussion, Jagan Mohan Reddy had stated that Backward Classes constitute 52 per cent of the state’s population. He stated that the socio-economic information of Backward Classes should be made available for better planning and execution of the development and welfare programmes of governments.

The Jagan Mohan Reddy-led party had thus joined parties like the JD(U) and the RJD in demanding a caste census.

In August, TDP National President N Chandrababu Naidu also favoured the demand for a caste census saying it is essential to track and eradicate poverty. The former Chief Minister was of the view that caste census is necessary to identify families that are economically backward and to be able to balance wealth distribution.

The tech-savvy leader believes that the digitisation of data can be used for tracking poverty. He feels that the caste census can help in devising an effective poverty alleviation strategy. “SCs, STs, OBCs and even some among the upper castes are poor. We need a comprehensive caste census and we must have a strategy based on the report on how to target these groups and ensure that every family is lifted out of poverty,” he said.

Naidu’s son and TDP general secretary N Lokesh, too, had announced in his ‘Yuvagalam padyatra’ that the TDP , if voted to power in the 2024 elections, will exert pressure on the Central government to conduct a caste census and ensure financial support for all the communities belonging to the OBCs.

He also demanded that the Central government form a separate ministry for OBCs so that a focused effort could be put in for the uplift of these communities.

Pawan Kalyan had said in June that a caste census should be done in Andhra Pradesh to frame policies for the uplift of all sections of society. Addressing a meeting of the Turpu Kapu community, Pawan Kalyan said while the community was claiming that their population in Andhra Pradesh was 46 lakh, the TDP was saying that it was 26 lakh and the YSRCP was claiming that the population was 16 lakh.

“What is the basis for the TDP or YSRCP to conclude on the population of any community,” he asked while strongly advocating a caste census.

Though an ally of the BJP, Pawan Kalyan last month decided to have an electoral alliance with the TDP. He made the announcement after meeting Chandrababu Naidu in Rajahmundry Central Jail, where he was lodged in judicial custody in the alleged Skill Development Corporation scam.

In view of the recent developments in the state, it will be interesting to see if caste census remains a poll issue in the forthcoming elections. YSRCP claims to have ensured social justice in the state since it came to power four years ago. The party leaders say it ensured political, social and economic empowerment of SCs, STs, minorities and the Backward Classes.

Jagan Mohan Reddy claimed to have created history by allotting 17 Cabinet berths to the MLAs belonging to these communities. Following last year’s Cabinet expansion, ministers undertook a ‘social justice bus yatra’.

Last year, Jagan also surprised everyone by nominating OBC leader from Telangana, R Krishnaiah to the Rajya Sabha. Krishnaiah, a leader of the National Backward Classes Welfare Association, had long been demanding a caste census and he wanted the Centre to collect caste data during the census.

In 2020, he along with other organisations had staged a dharna in New Delhi demanding that the Centre take up a caste census of the Backward Classes. He is of the view that a caste census of the Backward Classes is essential for the Central government to ensure that its schemes for their welfare and uplift reach this deserving section of society.

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