New Delhi | The Congress on Wednesday welcomed the decision to confer Bharat Ratna on former Bihar chief minister Karpoori Thakur, even as Rahul Gandhi asserted that a caste census will be a true tribute to the socialist leader as the country now needs "real justice" and not "politics of symbolism".
The opposition party also slammed the BJP, saying it reflects the Narendra Modi government's "desperation and hypocrisy".
Two-time Bihar chief minister Thakur has been named for the country's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna posthumously.
"I pay respectful tribute to Jannayak Karpoori Thakur ji, an incomparable warrior of social justice, on his birth centenary. He is certainly a precious gem of India and the decision to award him Bharat Ratna posthumously is welcome," Gandhi said in a post in Hindi on X.
The former Congress chief alleged that the BJP government's "concealment" of the results of the social and economic caste census conducted in 2011 and their "indifference" towards a nationwide census is an attempt to weaken the movement for social justice.
"'Justice of equal participation', one of the five justices of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, is at the centre of justice and social equality, which can begin only after the caste census," Gandhi said.
"In the true sense, this step will also be a true tribute to Jannayak Karpoori Thakur ji and his struggles for the rights of the backward and the deprived," he said.
"The country now needs 'real justice' not 'politics of symbolism'," Gandhi asserted.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said Thakur was a champion of social justice and conducting a nationwide caste census would be an appropriate tribute to him.
"Even though it reflects the Modi government's desperation and hypocrisy, the Indian National Congress welcomes the posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna to the champion of social justice Jannayak Karpoori Thakurji," Ramesh said in a post on X.
"'Bhagidari Nyay' is one of the five pillars of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. It will need a nation-wide caste census as a starting point.
"Rahul Gandhi has been consistently advocating this but the Modi government has all along refused to release the results of the Socio Economic Caste Census 2011 and also refused to commit itself to conduct an updated nation-wide caste census which will be the most appropriate tribute to Jannayak Karpoori Thakurji," he said.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress leader and AICC in-charge NSUI Kanhaiya Kumar noted that today is the birth centenary of Karpoori Thakur to whom the government has decided to confer 'Bharat Ratna' posthumously.
"The entire Congress party and Rahul Gandhi have welcomed it, but has also raised the question that...If you want to pay true tribute to Karpoori Thakur ji, then implement his Karpoori model of participation," Kumar said.
"We are saying in relation to that -- get the census done. The government does not want to get the census done, it is not willing to release socia-economic data of 2011. Rahul Gandhi is saying that it is important to get an X-ray done to provide medicine for the disease. The government is running away from it. We hope the government will take into account the demand for social justice, end casteism, and carry our a caste census for ensuring participation for all," Kumar said.
Thakur, who was born on this day in 1924 and passed away in 1988, was the first non- Congress socialist leader who became chief minister twice -- first for seven months in December 1970 and later for two years in 1977.
Thakur, known affectionately as 'Jan Nayak' (people's leader), is the 49th recipient of the country's highest civilian award. The award was last conferred on late president Pranab Mukherjee in 2019.
Born on January 24, 1924 in Nai samaj (barber society), Thakur is credited in Bihar politics for enforcing total prohibition of alcohol in 1970. The village where he was born in Samistupur district was renamed after him as Karpuri Gram.
He was inspired by heavyweights like Ram Manohar Lohia who spearheaded the socialist movement in post-Independent India. He was also close to Jayaprakash Narayan.