New Delhi: A Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting on caste based census Thursday saw divergent views being expressed and sought to elicit the views of various political parties before taking a decision on the contentious issue.
According to official sources, political parties will be asked to respond within four weeks, the ministerial panel, chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, decided.
Briefing reporters after the 90-minute meeting, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal said the panel discussed all aspects threadbare.
"We have decided we will meet again very soon," Sibal said.
Official sources said that some members of the GoM belonging to constituent parties of the United Progressive Alliance government, including New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar were not present at the meeting.
Law Minister M Veerappa Moily left the meeting early.
However, differences also exist among major political parties including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue.
During the budget session of parliament, the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) had vociferously raised the demand for a caste-based census.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told parliament that the government was aware of the views of the members and a decision on the issue would be taken by the cabinet.
The matter was subsequently referred to the GoM headed by Mukherjee.
The Samajwadi Party has already indicated that it will raise the issue in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning later this month.
The party`s chief whip in Lok Sabha Shailendra Kumar accused the government of backtracking on the issue and said the party will stall proceedings in Parliament if an early decision was not taken.
"We will not allow the house to function and launch an agitation if the government does not take an early decision for caste-based census," Shailendra Kumar said.
Though the BJP had initially said that it was not against caste-based census, the party appears to have had a rethink following opposition to such a headcount from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Senior party leader and party`s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde has favoured such a census.
The opinion among the Congress is also varied. While Moily has favoured a caste-based census, Minister of State for Home Ajay Maken wrote an open letter to young MPs asking them to oppose a headcount based on caste.
The members of GoM include Sibal, Moily, Abdullah, Banerjee, Pawar, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Mukul Wasnik and Defence Minister AK Antony.