Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

The Caste Census and Mandal Politics: Analysis


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Caste census analysis and impact

Caste Census

Central Idea

  • The demand for a caste-based census in India has once again brought Mandal politics to the forefront. Mandal politics has succeeded in capturing political power in large parts of India and has shifted the political discourse towards a universal acceptance of OBC reservations. However, the movement has weakened in recent years, and the demand for a caste census is seen as a way for Mandal parties to regain their hold in the public discourse.

What do you understand by mean Mandal Politics?

  • Mandal politics refers to a political movement initiated by historically marginalized Other Backward Classes (OBCs) or Bahujan caste groups in India in the late 1980s and 1990s.
  • The movement sought to secure a greater share of political and economic power through reservation in the public sector for the OBCs who had been historically excluded from such opportunities.
  • The movement derived its name from the Mandal Commission, a committee appointed by the Indian government in 1979 to identify the socially and educationally backward classes of India and recommend measures for their advancement.
  • The Mandal Commission report in 1980 recommended that 27% of jobs in the public sector be reserved for OBCs, a recommendation that was later implemented by the Indian government in 1990.

The outcomes of Mandal politics

Positive outcomes:

  • Increased representation: One of the main positive outcomes of Mandal politics is the increased representation of OBCs and other marginalized groups in the political sphere. This has led to greater inclusivity and diversity in government and a more balanced distribution of power.
  • Reservation policies: Mandal politics has also led to the introduction and expansion of reservation policies, which aim to provide equal opportunities to marginalized groups in education and employment.
  • Recognition of social justice: Mandal politics has brought the issue of social justice to the forefront of political discourse and has highlighted the need for policies that address historic discrimination and disadvantage.

Negative outcomes:

  • Caste-based politics: One of the negative outcomes of Mandal politics is the perpetuation of caste-based politics. This has led to the further entrenchment of caste divisions and has hindered the development of a more inclusive and egalitarian society.
  • Polarization and conflict: Mandal politics has also led to polarization and conflict between different caste groups, as each group seeks to secure its own interests.
  • Resentment and backlash: The policies introduced by Mandal politics have also led to resentment and backlash from certain upper-caste groups, who view the policies as discriminatory and unjust. This has sometimes led to violent protests and social unrest.

What is Caste Census?

  • A caste census is basically the counting of people belonging to different castes in a particular marked area.
  • With this two-phase exercise, the Bihar government will try to get numbers of people belonging to SC, ST, and OBC communities and their financial status among other important things.
  • The exercise is termed ‘Jaati Aadharit Ganana’. People belonging to every religion and caste will be covered during the exercise.

Arguments for caste census

  • Enumerating the marginalized: A caste census would actually bring to the particular the number of people who are at the margins, or who are deprived, or the kind of occupations they pursue, or the kind of hold that institutions like caste have on them. The caste census opens up to enumerating Dalits who are not Hindus, such as Dalit Christians and Muslims.
  • Data for Policymaking: This information is absolutely necessary for any democratic policymaking. The census will be able to answer real public policy questions and direct policies more effectively towards those who most need state assistance and affirmative action policies.
  • Judicial backing: The courts in India have often emphatically said that it is important to have adequate data with regard to the reservation.
  • Caste offers privilege: Caste is not only a source of disadvantage; it is also a very important source of privilege and advantage in our society.
  • Rids away caste rigidities: Counting of caste doesn’t necessarily perpetuate caste or the caste system. Myths of caste elitisms can be debunked through a caste census.

Arguments against caste census

  • 50% breach of reservation cap: It is argued that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on reservation and rationalize the reservation matrix in the country.
  • Caste within Caste: Given the differences in caste hierarchies across various regions of the country, a comparative reading along with generating a common hierarchy may be a challenge.
  • Caste over occupation linked predicaments: Caste linked deprivation or adversity may not be as common as occupation linked predicaments, which become easier to compare across states/regions.
  • Anonymity and bias: An intimate and personalised attribute like caste may have its differential exposition between urban and rural residents. Urban residents’ need for anonymity can always bias the reporting on caste.
  • Identity crisis: Recognition and adherence to caste identity is to a large extent shaped by progressive ideals, cosmopolitanism and education, which has its own regional divide in the country between the north and the south.
  • Hurdle to casteless society: The idea of a national caste census is abhorrent when the stated policy is to strive for a casteless society.

The Impact of a Caste Census: Analysis In brief

Positive impact

  • Accurate data: A caste census can provide accurate data on the caste demographics of India, which is necessary for effective policy-making and affirmative action programs.
  • Better targeting of government policies: The data from a caste census can help the government target policies and programs more effectively towards the marginalized and disadvantaged sections of society.
  • Improved representation: A caste census can help improve representation of underrepresented castes in government bodies and institutions.
  • Empowerment of marginalized communities: A caste census can help empower marginalized communities by giving them a voice and recognition in the political and social systems.

Negative impact

  • Polarization: A caste census can lead to polarization and tensions between different castes, especially if the data is used to allocate resources or benefits based on caste.
  • Stigma and discrimination: There is a risk that the caste census data can be used to further stigmatize and discriminate against marginalized communities.
  • Misuse of data: The data from a caste census can be misused by politicians and other groups to further their own agendas, leading to potential conflicts and social unrest.
  • Privacy concerns: Some people may be hesitant to disclose their caste, leading to concerns about privacy and data protection.


  • The caste census is seen as a way for Mandal parties to regain their hold in the public discourse and direct policies more effectively towards those who most need state assistance and affirmative action policies. However, the demand for a caste census is a double-edged sword that may create conflicts and shift the discourse from historical injustices to distribution. The Mandal movement faces challenges but remains relevant in the ongoing struggle for social justice.

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