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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 52, December 17, 2022

Census: What’s the delay?

Friday 16 December 2022, by Faraz Ahmad



One thing one can safely say about Narendra Modi without fearing any contradiction from any quarter is that he despises the past. Not just his past, about which this is not the proper forum to discuss but the Indian nation’s past and I am not talking about the medieval/Mughal past, which no graduate from his alma mater the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) make any bones about acknowledging. But the past of modern India, or rather independent India. And so he is determined to leave no vestiges of the past before he has to make way for his successor. Naturally then the institutions, as much as the Central Vista, are his biggest targets.

Even before India achieved independence it held census exercise every 10 years till 2011. Thus the Census ought to have been completed in 2021. But the Corona pandemic provided a reasonable ground for the Modi government to explain its inability to complete that process. But then all through 2022 which is about to end in a couple of days, the Government has been making tall claims of normalcy having returned and all kind of data is being thrown at us to prove this claim: ‘sab kuch theek thaak hai’ (everything is fine).

However Union Minister of state for Home affairs Nityanand Rai stated in the Monsoon session of Parliament that all activities related to the Census had been postponed till further orders.” it has not yet been decided when the census exercise shall commence. Rai disclosed that, while the Government had sent the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) for filling up 1736 posts only 372 had been filled up cumulatively in 2020, (when the preliminary work was supposed to commence) and 2021 when it was scheduled to complete. Following news reports critical of the Government inertia on the Census front Rai again made a statement in Parliament in the current Winter session on December 13 giving the same figure of 372 appointments in the Census showing not much headway has been made by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India in this direction.

The first Census was conducted in India by the British government in 1872. Thereafter since 1881, the Census exercise has been held promptly and exactly on a decadal basis till 2011, that is before Narendra Modi led BJP government assumed office in 2014. The delay in Census is directly affecting the distribution of resources to the states and therefor affecting growth, since the states get their financial and other share from the Centre on the basis of the number of people the state or union territory is to take care of.

This delay in commencing the Census exercise is apparently of its own making by this Government. One, the Government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) on December 12, 2019 and notified on January 10, 2020 which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, pointedly excluding Muslim migrants. Apart from Muslim women protests over this alleged unconstitutional act, there is also uproar in Assam against this government purportedly encouraging Bengalee migrants from Bangla Desh, even if they be Hindus. Second as Rai admitted in Parliament the burning issue of caste Census, becoming even more aggravated after the Supreme Court ratification of economic reservation. Rai told Parliament that at least three states, namely Bihar, Maharashtra and Odisha, as also several are pressing upon the Government to include countrywide caste enumeration also in the proposed Census to establish the economic backwardness of each caste, While the BJP has never categorically rejected this demand, it fears a backlash from its core constituency the Savarna Aryavrat if it concedes the demand. And the Government knows not how to get out of this catch 22-situation. That is why perhaps the delay. But how long, the question begs an answer.

Faraz Ahmad

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