Odisha never entertained the so-called social justice movements or the caste-based politics born out of it.
Biju Patnaik, the strongman of Odisha politics and father of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, was among the few lone voices in the erstwhile Janata Dal, who had initially even refused to implement the Mandal commission report in the state during the 1990s.
Issues like charismatic leadership, corruption, social welfare measures and good governance have always influenced the election results in Odisha.
It is the reason why the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) under the charismatic leadership of CM Naveen Patnaik, who managed to etch an image of an anti-corruption crusader, has been ruling the state with a thumping majority for the last more than two decades.
However, the BJD has emerged as a strong votary of caste-based census in the country. It has pressed for a caste-based survey alongside the general census several times in the past but the Centre rejected the demand.
In a memorandum presented to Union Home Minister Amit Shah in 2021, a BJD delegation demanded a caste-based census and central legislation for changes in the 50 per cent ceiling on reservations. The delegation also reportedly cited several court judgments to convince Shah about the need for a detailed scientific database of the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category to formulate an efficient reservation policy.
The BJD demanded a caste-based census to identify and figure out the exact population of the OBCs. The ruling party leaders argued that in the absence of authentic data about the exact numbers of Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) or OBC population, focused welfare programmes for the OBC groups cannot be formulated.
Analysts opined that the BJD has been trying to cash in on the caste census by luring the numerically strong Other Backward Castes (OBC) votes.
Every political party wants to increase the number of vote banks in the country and so is the BJD. If other parties are trying to lure the OBCs vote bank then why should the BJD not try the same. Due to its numerical strength, every political party is attracted towards the OBC vote share. There is a race among the parties to gain the OBC votes. Those who used to object it are now leaving no stone unturned to lure the OBCs. So, everyone is now demanding a caste-based census, said political observer Prassana Mohanty.
After the Centre rejected the demand for a caste-based census, the Odisha government carried out a survey to know the social and educational conditions of the people belonging to the Backward Classes in the state. As per reports, the survey revealed that 208 backward class communities constitute 39% of the total population of Odisha.
Sources claim that the state has a total 53, 96,132 households with a population of 1, 94, 88, 671 that belonged to backward classes. Odisha’ has a population of 4,19,74,218 as per the 2011 census.