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 (Image Courtesy: taxindiaonline.com)
 
Caste arithmetic and not Vikas would decide 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Available indications suggest Modi Government is holding caste cards up its sleeves that would cruise its return to power.  
Before discussing the Government’s trump cards, we need to put the caste politics in perspective by recapitulating four trends. 
First trend is Modi Government’s sound and fury over an October 2017 news report, attributed to sources, stating that Congress President Rahul Gandhi would use Cambridge Analytica (CA) as Brahmastra against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
The rulers’ theatrics over CA bordered on hysteria as news emerged that this UK-based firm had used stolen Facebook data to influence voters in the US and other countries. News stories stated that it had also worked for Indian political parties in different elections. The most crucial disclosure by CA whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, was that its parent company’s (SCL’s) Indian subsidiary SCL India conducted a caste census in UP in 2012 for an unnamed national party to identify the “party’s core voters as well as likely swing voters”.
In a tweeted slide, Mr. Wylie explained the significance of caste research and analysis to influence voters. As put in the slide, “caste research includes information on the demographics of the population of each area. From this, the campaign team can clearly understand how caste influences votes and shape messing around the findings. A better understanding of the influence of caste on Indian politics will open up research avenues and allow the campaign team to target the population in the most effective and efficient way”.
Second trend is growing disenchantment of dalits with BJP Governments at the Centre and at the States. BJP Governments have done little to rein in Hindutva fringe groups from inflicting atrocities on scheduled castes (SCs). 
They are also upset at economic harm to their cow skinning and leather business due to violence by Gau Rakshaks even when they skin carcass of dead cattle. Their anguish has been echoed by BJP dalit Members of Parliament. At least four of them have written stirring letters to Mr. Modi.
Third, other backward classes (OBCs) are unhappy too due to Government’s failure to improve their economic conditions especially through reservations of government & public sector jobs. The problem is largely due to slow and small jobs creation and alarming reliance on manpower supply companies. This harsh realty affects all Indians but is eclipsed by caste passions.  
Several other castes such as Jats and Gujjars resort to periodic agitations for seeking their inclusion in OBC list, which serves as gateway to job reservations. 
Fourth, BJP has lately stopped basking under the glory heaped by mainstream media for its skills in decoding castes at the ground level to win elections. A national daily last year ran a story with headline “The ‘Shah’ of caste equations and poll math”. The story disclosed that BJP President Amit Shah's knowledge about castes in Uttar Pradesh. 
Another leading daily last year ran a story headlined “Amit Shah emerges as the most successful BJP chief'”, appreciating his “caste calculation” and his skill to “fine-tuning caste arithmetic”. A leading economic daily profiled him with headline “Amit Shah: He is more than just an election machine”. The story credited him for first stitching together “a strong intra-party caste alliance within BJP”.
Mr. Shah’s faith in caste mantra is best illustrated by his statement dated 23rd August 2017 on Modi Government’s decision to set up a commission to sub-categorize OBCs. He stated that the government’s move to create sub-categories within OBCs will give priority to the extremely backward groups among them in reservation and in other Government schemes.  
He also referred to Government’s decision to enhance the annual income limit for exclusion of creamy layer from OBCs benefits regime to Rs eight lakh from Rs six lakh.
Modi Government is thus trying to keep as many OBCs as possible in good humour. More on the Government’s strategy to turn post-Mandal OBC politics in BJP’s favour a bit later.  
When BJP is led Mr Shah, the Chankaya of caste politics, why should the Party and Government cry hoarse against Congress’ alleged strategy to bank on CA to influence voters?
Is there more to it than what meets the eye? Yes. Has any data other than Facebook profiles been stolen?
Modi Government does not want to lose upper hand it enjoys by virtue of it being custodian of secret Big data on 46 lakh castes. What if this data has been leaked to data analytics companies in the same way CBSE paper leaks, Aadhar data leaks and leaks of all sort? 
The data on religion and caste of each household in India was collected for the first time since the Independence through a specially commissioned project named Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC-2011).
Launched in June 2011, SECC was completed in March 2016 at a whopping cost of Rs.4893.60 crore. This sum is adequate to fund four new AIIMS hospitals in States.
While the provisional data on socio-economic aspects was released in July 2015, the caste data has not been made public as yet.
The questionnaire for SECC-2011 sought information on religion and castes. The questionnaire also gave option to households that did not belong to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) to specify their caste in a column named other. It also had another column named "no caste/tribe"
There is nothing in public domain that can prove or disprove BJP top brass’ exclusive access to data on 46 lakh castes. The fact is that ruling party and government of the day work in seamless fashion. Under this, many ministers double as star campaigners for elections and are involved in selection of party candidates and chief ministers
Mr. Modi himself doubles as the Number 1 campaigner for BJP in national & state assembly elections. It remains to be seen when the Opposition would corner the Government on not sharing Caste data with other parties. 
Modi Government’s data delaying tactics became obvious in July 2015 when Cabinet approved setting up of an expert group (EG) under the chairmanship of Niti Aayog’s Vice-Chairman to classify the “Caste names” received under SECC 2011. The Government’s replies to Parliament questions on this issue imply that EG has not yet even been constituted. 
In reply to a question put in Lok Sabha on 13th April 2018, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, H.G Ahir, stated: “The caste data has been handed over to ORGI (Office of the Registrar General of India & census commissioner) for processing, whereafter it is to be submitted to the Expert Group to be formed under the Chairmanship of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog for classification and categorization. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment being the nodal Ministry is taking further action in the matter”.
Mr. Ahir added: “Certain errors have been observed during the processing of caste data.The State Governments /UTs have been consulted to make necessary corrections”.
About three years have passed and Mr. Modi has not yet put his self-declared love for speed into action in this case. It is highly unlikely that the Government has shared caste data with any of the four statutory/constitutional commissions for welfare of socially backward sections of the society. Secrecy continues to be the watchword. 
It is here pertinent to quote anguish recorded by National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) in its latest available annual report for 2014-15. Reports for subsequent years are apparently not available perhaps because NCBC at present neither has chairman nor any member. 
The Government’s Bill to repeal NCBC Act and another Bill to amend the Constitution to create a constitutional NCBC have not yet been enacted into laws. The new NCBC would have power to take decisions on complaints of atrocities filed by members of OBCs.
Modi Government would obviously like both houses of Parliament to pass revised Constitution amendment bill for creation of constitutional NCBC in 2018. This is one of the trump cards for BJP to appease OBCs.  
According to NCBC’s 2014-15 report, NCBC requested Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) to facilitate constitution of EG. This is required to help cull the OBC data from SECC-2011 to enable NCBC to consider a Decadal Review of OBCs list. NCBC can then accordingly consider “the cases of Over Inclusion and Under Inclusion” in view of the recent Judgment of the Supreme Court.
Section 11 of the NCBC Act, 1993 requires that revision of the Central List of OBCs after every ten years. No such review has ever been taken so far.
As put by NCBC annual report, “At the initiative of MoSJ&E, a meeting was called by Secretary, MoSJ&E with Registrar General of India and Member -Secretary, NCBC on 23rd December, 2014. After detailed discussion of all issues concerned it was decided that MoSJ&E will move a Cabinet Note proposing the setting up of an Expert Group to cull out the OBC data from the SECC-2011 data which has been collected by the RGI”. 
Information whether Such OBC data-centric EG was formed is hard to come by.  Assuming OBC data has not been culled from Big data of 46 lakh castes, how relevant would be current exercise to sub-categorize OBCs from outdated OBCs List.
The questionnaire for SECC-2011 did not provide for collection of separate data on OBCs. The data for OBCs thus forms part of all castes other than SCs and STs. Culling and classifying OBC data from other castes category is challenging task.
As put by NCBC, “Not only will this exercise be mind-boggling, it will also require specialized groups in each of the States to go through approximately 90 crore entries and match them against the existing OBC caste names in each State. The NCBC does not think that this will be an exercise which can be done accurately or speedily”. 
The picture on OBC data emanating from SECC-2011 would become clear when the Commission on sub-categorization of OBCs submits its report in June 2018.
Chaired by Justice (Retd.) Smt. G. Rohini, the Commission was constituted on under article 340 of the Constitution on 2nd October2017. 
The Commission has been assigned the task of examining the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes/ communities included in the Central List of OBCs. Its mandate include identifying the respective castes/communities/sub-castes/ synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.
The Commission is also mandated to work out a scientific mechanism for sub-categorization. 
There was actually no need for Justice Rohini Commission if NDA Government had accepted NCBC’s recommendations on this issue
In February 2014, UPA Government had urged NCBC to examine the matter of sub-categorization within the OBCs. NCBC, in its special report given in March 2015, urged the Government to first take a policy decision to go ahead with this nationwide exercise of sub-categorization within the OBCs. 
NCBC had also sought an “in principle” approval of the Government for methodology, the number of sub-categories and related issues. It also urged the Government to agree to funding of this project by Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (ICSSR).
It mooted classification of OBCs first into three broad categories to be followed by sub-categorization in each category. The three recommended broad categories are: A) Extremely backward classes; B) More Backward classes and C) backward classes.
NCBC noted that in the absence of classification within OBCs, the “more advanced among OBCs are availing most of the benefits available to the OBCs to the detriment interest of the really depressed and downtrodden amongst the OBCs”. 
It remains to be seen whether Justice Rohini Commission report would be made public. Would the Report’s recommendations help BJP create loyal streams from within OBCs? 
The OBCs’ share in Indian population was estimated at 40.94% in 2007 by a consumption survey done by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO).
This brings us to crux of the caste politics: What is the percentage of OBCs, SCs, STs and other communities in India’s total population at present?
Would analysis of caste data give an opportunity to Modi Government to tinker with existing quota percentages in jobs, education institutions and promotions?
Can Mr. Modi pull unforeseen trump card from caste data? Would the Opposition parties press for access to this electoral gold mine to create a level playing field for 2019 polls?
Would castes & religion-obsessed politicians create a beautiful map of India visualized by German anthropologist, Baron Yon Eicksteclt, in 1931 census?
Eicksteclt, suggested creation of a series of maps which would show the population of each village by caste and religion in coloured points of varying shape and size.
To quote ‘Census of India, 1931 Vol.I-India Part-I Report’, “The system is admirable one which would if applied to India give a most valuable and interesting record, but the cost of producing series of maps on the large scale necessary to show every village with its inhabitants by castes or tribes was in itself obviously prohibitive, apart from the time and labour involved in compiling the statistics of caste by villages”. 
Many more issues would spin in mind of voters as caste politics comes into full play in the run-up to 2019 polls.                                          
 
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 11 April 2018
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