Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad on Wednesday reiterated the demand for caste census and favoured “breaking” the 50 per cent ceiling on reservations if the population of SCs, STs and OBCs was found to be more than half of the total.
Prasad, who has been convalescing in Delhi after his release from jail earlier this year, made the remarks while addressing a training camp of his party workers organised here to which he got connected online.
“I was the first one to raise the demand for caste census. I had made the demand on the floor of the Parliament,” said the multiple-term former MP and the railway minister in the UPA-1 government. The former Bihar chief minister, who has ended up spending a long time behind bars following his conviction in fodder scam cases, said “my demand is for the welfare of all, SCs and STs included. Quotas have been decided taking into account a census conducted before Independence. We must have a fresh estimate of the population of different social segments”.
“The existing quotas have been insufficient. And even these are rarely filled, resulting in huge backlogs. Let there be a fresh caste census and all get quotas in proportion to their population. If it needs breaking of the 50 per cent barrier, so be it,” said Prasad, who owes his rise in politics to the Mandal churn of the 1990s.
Prasad’s younger son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav, who is the leader of the opposition in state assembly, had recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to broach the issue of caste census as part of a delegation headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, an arch rival of the RJD supremo.
The Centre’s contention that only enumeration of SCs and STs was proposed has triggered demands that the same be done for OBCs as well. A cap of 50 per cent on quotas has been fixed by an order of the Supreme Court.
Prasad, who is in his late 70s and suffers from multiple ailments, spoke for less than 30 minutes and the audience were left pining for his wit and repartee that had made him a legend in his heydays.
He, nonetheless, sought to assure his foot soldiers that his health was improving and he will soon be in Bihar, touring all districts to energise the rank and file.
He also expressed satisfaction over the generational change in his party and appeared impressed with the RJD’s electrifying campaign and performance in the assembly polls last year.
“You all, under the leadership of Tejashwi, did very well in my absence. I am glad that we emerged as the single largest party, though we fell short of wresting power because of ‘beimaani’ (deceit),” said the wily leader alluding to allegations that the final result was tilted in favour of the ruling NDA, which got a slender majority, by pliant officials posted in constituencies where the contest was tight.
Prasad also gave a thumbs up to his “disciplinarian” state unit chief Jagadanand Singh, with whom his mercurial elder son Tej Pratap Yadav keeps picking up quarrels.
A keen observer of politics, he candidly admitted the need for greater discipline in the party and asked workers to take a leaf out of the book of alliance partners like the Left and the Samajwadi Party in adjoining Uttar Pradesh.
“Our polling agents are often found lax during elections. Such training camps should correct this defect. Look at our allies CPI and CPI(M) that keep holding such workshops…I would also suggest that all our members wrap a green ‘gamcha’ (thin towel) as a mark of identification. Look at the SP. All its workers wear a red cap,” said Prasad, who has been seen as, despite his immensely successful political career, a maverick guided more by instincts than clearly defined rules.