Caste-Based Census: States Clamour Grows
The ensuing Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections have stirred a hornet’s nest. Regional parties are digging in their heels to push for caste-based census, counting the Other Backward Classes. Following in footsteps of Odisha, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has raised the ante. He sees it as an opportunity for his JD(U) to put pressure on alliance partner BJP and Prime Minister Modi, to stop avoiding the issue and take a call. Emerging from a meeting with Modi on Monday last, Kumar who led a 10-party delegation from the State, including arch rival RJD and Opposition leader Tejashvi Yadav, the Congress, CPI (ML), AIMIM, his allies BJP, HAM-S, and VIP said the Centre looks ‘affirmative’. But it’s anybody’s guess whether it will concede, as in a reply to a question in Lok Sabha, it has stated that its decision ‘as a matter of policy is not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than SCs/STs in census”.
Be that as it may, regional parties are unwilling to heed. Leaders of TMC, BJD, YSRCP, NCP, SP, BSP, PDP, DMK, AIADMK, NC, TRS, CPI and CPM are vocal and are pursuing the demand. Clearly, the pressure is growing on BJP, and within the party too, despite the fear that such a census could ignite Mandal-2 situation and impact its ideological as well as political thinking of a monolithic Hindutva identity. The RSS is pretty firm, but BJP MPs and leaders opine that the party has nothing to lose or gain if it yields. Can the political leadership look beyond power and think of the nation’s interest? Remember, since 1951 till 2011, every census has published population of SCs/STs comprising Dalits and Adivasis, other than data including languages, religions, socio-economic status, etc. Never have OBCs, which constitute 52-odd% of the population been counted. No more of caste-division please. All eyes will now be on the Centre, whether it takes a call eyeing political options in UP, as SP and BSP wait in the wings to gain mileage, or will it look at the larger picture?
Upheaval In 2 Cong States
The Congress has a lot on its plate than it can handle. The rebellion bug has now bitten two of its ruled States— Punjab and Chhattisgarh. The first has been an ongoing saga. A few weeks after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh gave in to accepting bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu as PCC chief, controversial remarks were made by his aides embarrassing the party. And if this wasn’t enough, 40-odd MLAs and even a few ministers have raised the ante, seeking his removal. Some have met party’s state-in-charge Harish Rawat, who sought to brush these as party issues which would be resolved and if not, then the High Command would step in. The timing couldn’t be worse for an already battered Congress as Punjab is due for Assembly elections next year, posing the big question whether Singh would lead the party or Sidhu and team would unseat him before? In Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is being challenged by rival and health minister T S Singh Deo, whose camp claims a promise was made to him before government formation in 2018 that he would replace Baghel midway–after two-and-a-half years. Baghel trashed the ‘rotational’ CM post saying attempts were being made to bring ‘political instability’ and it wouldn’t be allowed. However, he is under pressure and did have an audience with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi. So did Deo. With two of its Chief Ministers under siege, will the Congress be able to weather the storm or end up sitting in Opposition?
Maharashtra gets a fresh taste of Shiv Sena’s wrath and ‘vendetta politics’. On Tuesday last, with the police arresting Narayan Rane, Union Minister and old rival of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, over his remarks about ‘slapping’ the latter for his ignorance of the year of Independence, street battles erupted across the State between the Shiv Sainiks and BJP supporters. The SS showed its power by galvanising its cadres and calling the shots in the MVA government. However, his arrest from Ratnagiri and getting bail has raised concern whether Rane’s remarks warranted such drastic action. Leader of Opposition and former CM Fadnavis though doesn’t support Rane’s comments, he accused the government of using police force as a tool for vendetta, demanded law and order and ‘not Taliban-like governance’. Sena’s response was: Rane undermined pride and prestige of Maharashtra and action was taken as per the law with police acting per the procedure. The blame game is far from over. Rather the arrest and clashes predictably will be used by either sides in polls to 10 municipal corporations, including Mumbai and Thane and 25 Zilla Parishads due February next, being termed by some as ‘mini-Assembly’ polls. Note, Rane has already got cracking by touring Mumbai, satellite cities and the Konkan region, Sena stronghold. Guess, his feud with Thackeray, which began in 2005 when he left the party after three decades, gets further ignited.
Haryana Family Identity Bill
Haryana adds another unique identification number, the logic of which has been questioned by the Opposition. On Tuesday last, its Assembly passed the Haryana Parivar Pehchan Bill, 2021 for each family to access various government services, despite strong opposition from the Congress. Citing concerns such as there is already the Aadhaar card; a draconian law brought in haste with insidious intent; will end citizens’ privacy; a hacker can breach data, people will be exposed to snooping, etc, it demanded the Bill be withdrawn. An adamant Chief Minister Khattar said the Pehchan Patra isn’t mandatory and will go ahead with the mammoth data preparation exercise. He countered: right to privacy isn’t an issue for the poor, only those who have something to hide have this concern; a Haryana Pehchan Patra Authority will be set up, every family, being a resident shall be entitled to obtain a PP number by submitting on designated portal, information such as may be notified with prior government approval. The number, he insisted will help in determining eligibility for provision of any scheme, service, subsidy or benefit provided or implemented by or on behalf of State government or any government agency or local authority.” No one, he claimed, built a system for benefits reaching ‘the last person standing in queue.’ The PPP scheme does so! A feather in his cap?
Can a marriage be solemnised online via video conference under Special Marriage Act? An issue to be decided by a larger bench of Kerala High Court. This after a single bench heard petitions, wherein it was contended personal physical presence of bride and groom isn’t necessary for solemnisation of nuptials under the law. The government disagrees. It’s arguments: solemnisation of marriage was mandatory prior to registering under SMA and both sides’ presence and witnesses is required before Marriage Officer; if online system was allowed, it would ‘mandate maintaining an electronic register of marriages and setting up online mode of payment, both not in place presently; at least one of two parties must be resident of the area within territorial limits of Marriage Officer for minimum 30 days prior to issuing the notice of intended nuptials. If these conditions aren’t met two persons living abroad can’t have marriage solemnised online. The petitioners insist: many judgments say appearing via video conferencing is akin to being present in person with sole difference that parties can’t be touched. A marriage can be solemnised by any means, such as garland exchange, hand shaking, as long as both parties declare they take each other as lawfully wedded husband and wife. While verdict of the larger bench will be eagerly awaited, the single judge left a thought: “The law mustn’t only change with changing social needs, it must also acknowledge and recognise technological advancements!”