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Dalitbahujan leaders should avoid diluting the caste-census issue

There was no reason for Kapil Patil to go against the Supreme Court verdict by digging out Maratha reservation. He should not have combined the burning issue of caste census with the dead issue of quota for the Marathas. But our leaders keep on saying the wrong things just to win votes, says Shrawan Deore

On 9 March 2023, Kapil Patil forcefully raised the issue of caste census in the Maharashtra Legislative Council. An MLC, Kapil Patil cited the ongoing caste census in Bihar to corner the Maharashtra government and left the OBC-Bahujan Welfare Minister Atul Save speechless. But he made a mistake while speaking on the issue in the House. He couldn’t help mention Maratha reservation. This was a folly, taking advantage of which, the minister, in his reply sidestepped the caste census issue and only talked about Maratha reservation.

The Supreme Court has given a final burial to the Maratha reservation issue. In its judgment, delivered on 5 May 2020, the top court clearly stated that according to the data furnished by the Gaikwad Commission appointed by the Maharashtra government, the Maratha community is not socially and educationally backward and hence not deserving of reservations. Against his backdrop, there was no reason for Kapil Patil to go against the court verdict by digging out Maratha reservation. He should not have combined the burning issue of caste census with the dead issue of quota for the Marathas. But our leaders keep saying the wrong things just to win votes.

The politicians are often gripped by imaginary fears – “if I speak in favour of the OBCs, I won’t get Maratha votes”, and so on. Many Maharashtra politicians describe themselves as leaders of the OBCs but lack the courage to address OBC issues aggressively. Almost all leaders have been gripped by this fear since Chhagan Bhujbal and his son Pankaj were thrown behind bars. “If I speak in favour of the OBCs, will Fadnavis deny me a ticket? Will it antagonize the senior Pawar? Will it anger the junior (Ajit) Pawar? Will Ashok Chavan complain against me to [the high command in] Delhi?” The so-called OBC leaders are reeling under such fears. But Kapil Patil overcame all these fears and gave a good tutorial to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP government on caste census. 

Maharashtra Legislative Council member Kapil Patil

Nana Patole had done that some time ago. When the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance was in power, he had moved a resolution on caste census in the Maharashtra Assembly, even though he was the Speaker. That resolution had raised the hackles of Ajit Pawar, Anil Parab and other Maratha leaders from different parties. The Brahmin-Maratha MPs and MLAs from all parties forge a common front against the Dalit-OBCs but the OBC leaders are unable to come together. Speaking on the resolution, Devendra Fadnavis, the then leader of the opposition, formally supported it but mischievously claimed that the resolution had been tabled keeping the chief minister and the deputy chief minister in the dark. Had Nana Patole tried to take the chief minister and the deputy chief minister into confidence on the issue, it would have created such a ruckus in the House that tabling the resolution would have become impossible. It would have been foolish to give the Brahmin-Maratha MLAs an opportunity to hatch a controversy. And so, following the guerilla-war tactics of Malik Ambar and Shivaji Maharaj, Nana Patole moved the resolution without any warning.

On the basis of the resolution moved by Patole, a letter was sent to the Union Government, recommending caste census. However, the Centre rejected it. At the time, we had asked Patole to move another resolution that if the caste column was not going to figure in the next decennial census, the Maharashtra government would boycott the national census and conduct its own census.

But the OBC leaders have the liberty to go only this far and no further. Most of them don’t have the courage to cross the boundary. 

Now, the Bihar government’s decision to conduct a caste census has brought so much pressure to bear on the Centre that it has postponed the national census indefinitely. The reason is that now caste census is no longer only about OBCs but about getting populations of all castes and subcastes. If numbers under all castes and subcastes, including the Brahmin and the Maratha, are counted, it would reveal who is placed where, who is ahead and who is behind. It would also reveal that in the 75 years since Independence, which upper caste has usurped what proportion of the entitlements of the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. It will also provide a basis for making financial allocations in annual budgets. 

Even more importantly, caste census is linked to the annihilation of caste. Thanks to the anti-caste movements launched by Jotirao Phule, Shahu ji Maharaj and B.R. Ambedkar, today, no one dares to support the caste system openly. The Constitution may not have proclaimed the end of the caste system but it does provide for measures to bring about equality among castes and thus annihilate caste. No wonder, even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is now talking about ending the caste system. The Phule-Ambedkarite, Marxist, socialist, capitalist – parties and organizations of all hues and colours – are vocal about dismantling the caste system. But none of them is ready to spell out what needs to be mandatorily done to achieve that objective. 

The caste system has not come to us from another planet. Had it been so, we could have sent it back there. It exists in the minds of the people and even more reflects in their conduct, sometimes bordering on cruelty. Science tells us that if we wish to destroy something, we will have to study it both qualitatively and quantitatively, and this study has to be systematic and completely error-free. One needs to collect and compile data and other relevant information on caste to annihilate it. The caste census is the only way to do that. Only then can we hope to do an in-depth study of the caste system and draft a programme and a timeline for its annihilation.  

Be that as it may, the Dalit, Adivasi and OBC leaders would have to shed their egos and come together to ensure that caste census becomes a reality. For that purpose, they will have to withstand and ignore the pressure of the leadership of their respective parties. Kapil Patil represents his own party – Lokbharti – and has no Maratha-Brahmin master. Besides, like myself, he is also the product of the “school” of Karmaveer Janardan Patil. There are bound to be expectations from him.  

(Translated from the Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Shrawan Deore

Shrawan Deore became associated with the progressive movement in 1978 while he was still in college. He joined the movement for the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1982. He has been elected the vice-president of the Maharashtra OBC Association. In 1999, Deore set up the OBC Seva Sangh for the OBC Employees and Officers and became its general-secretary. He is often the main speaker and chief guest at events organized in different parts of Maharashtra to raise awareness among the OBCs.

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