The INDIA opposition alliance has “agreed to take up the issue of caste census”, Congress leader KC Venugopal said Wednesday evening after the bloc’s coordination committee met in Delhi. The group, banded together to present a united opposition front ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election, will also “start process for determining seat-sharing”, he said.
Only 12 of the 14 parties named to the bloc’s highest decision-making body were present today. The biggest absentee was the Trinamool Congress, whose nominee – Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee was “conveniently” summoned today by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with its inquiry into alleged irregularities in appointments to government schools.
Mr Banerjee’s absence was significant because his party had refused to support the bloc’s intention to push the government to conduct a caste census; Trinamool boss and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed adding this demand to a joint political resolution, sources told NDTV.
Sans the Trinamool’s presence, INDIA decided to push for a caste census call now and speak to the party later – a decision that will almost certainly not go down well with Ms Banerjee.
“The parties present in the meeting agreed to take up the issue of Caste Census,” INDIA said, while also slamming Mr Banerjee’s absence as “vendetta politics”.
“Abhishek Banerjee… could not attend the meeting due to a summons by the Enforcement Directorate, arising out of the vendetta politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party.”
On Caste Census
After the July meeting INDIA passed a resolution called for such a census; all parties flagged “hatred and violence against minorities” and called for a “fair hearing for all socially, educationally and economically backward communities… as a first step, implement the caste census”.
A caste-based survey is being conducted by the Bihar government led by the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, both of whom are INDIA members. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has called it a move that will help the disadvantaged, and it was upheld by the Patna High Court last month.
The viability of a caste census is now being argued before the Supreme Court.
On INDIA Seat-Sharing
“The coordination committee decided to start the process for determining seat-sharing. It was decided that the member parties will hold talks and decide at the earliest,” the bloc said.
INDIA contested its first elections last week – seven bypolls across Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Kerala, Bengal and Jharkhand. Eyebrows were raised after it was revealed that the bloc would fight each other in three of these seats – in Kerala, Bengal and Uttarakhand.
Overall, the bloc sneaked a 4-3 win over the BJP but questions over the levels of unity within refused to go away, and could be heightened by backing a caste census despite a member party’s objection.
After its Mumbai meet, INDIA had said it does plan to contest future elections together but added an immediate caveat, saying it would be “… as far as possible”.
Meanwhile, the opposition group has also formed a sub-committee to select news organisations to boycott; “… sub-group on Media to decide upon the names of the anchors on whose shows none of the INDIA parties will send their representatives,” their statement said.