Faced with a challenge to his traditional Other Backward Class-Muslim vote base from the ruling National Democratic Alliance in poll-bound Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad appears to be making inclusion of caste in census and opposition to women's reservation bill his major planks to woo the electorate.
Strongly pitching for incorporating caste in census, he said opposing it could spark a 'mass agitation'.
Prasad also insisted that such an exercise should not be seen as anti-upper caste.
On the women's quota bill, he made it clear that he would oppose it 'tooth and nail' if it is brought before the Lok Sabha in its present form. "This government will go if the bill is brought in its present form," he told PTI.
Referring to the issue of caste, he said, "We are not advocating the inclusion of caste in census to provoke any dispute between the backward and the forward castes. Our demand is not against any section. We are not against upper caste people. We feel the enumeration of caste will help everybody and it is very much needed."
Hitting out at the "so-called intellectuals" opposing such a census, he said, "These are the same people who had opposed the Mandal Commission's recommendations (for reservation to OBCs).
"Inclusion of caste in census has to happen. It will happen. We will get it done. After all, this is a commitment made by the prime minister before Parliament and the nation," Prasad said.
He was hopeful that the government's decision to form a Group of Ministers to look into the issue is not a 'delaying tactic' and expressed confidence that the enumeration of caste in census will begin from February next year.
OBC leaders from other political parties have also come out in support of such an exercise. There are differences of opinion within the national parties on the issue.
The strong demand for inclusion of caste in census by Prasad as well as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is being seen in political circles as an attempt to regain their hold over OBC vote banks in the Hindi heartlands of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
On the issue of women's bill, Prasad said there is no change in his party's stand and he will continue to oppose 'tooth and nail' the legislation in its present form.
"The bill for women's reservation in its existing form is a conspiracy to keep Muslims out of politics and quell the emerging political leadership among Dalits and OBCs. We will oppose the bill tooth and nail if it is brought before the Lok Sabha in its present form. This government will go if the bill is brought in its present form," he said.
The RJD chief said he is not against reservations for women as such, but the bill should give representation "to real women, those who are working in the fields." PTI