The caste survey undertaken by the Bihar Government, results of which were made public on Monday, may open the door to challenging the 50% ceiling on reservations in jobs and educational institutions currently in place, as also a recalibration of the Mandal politics of the 1990s, say observers.
The survey, released by Bihar development commissioner Vivek Singh, showed that the Other Backward Classes and the Extremely Backward Classes between them constituted 63% of the State’s population, of which the EBCs constituted 36% while the OBCs stood at 27.13%.
“This survey is an important simply because, it can open the door for challenging the ceiling of 50% reservations currently in place,” said political scientist Ashwani Kumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
The 50% ceiling on reservations in jobs and educational institutions was accepted by the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney Vs Union of India case in 1992, a few years after the V.P. Singh Government announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission report which recommended reservations for OBCs.
“This will also lead to a recalibration of the Mandal politics of the 1990s,” said Mr. Kumar. “If in the 1990s you saw the Mandal parties, like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) commanding the support of an umbrella OBC bloc, post 2014, the Mandal 2.0 version of the BJP, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi carved out the support of the non-Yadav OBCs from this larger block, and also some sections of the EBCs. Now we may see a Mandal 3.0 of demands for proportional representation within this block as well as the lifting of the 50% ceiling,” he added.
In the recently concluded Special Session of Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah had in fact recounted just how much the Mandal 2.0 had diffused into the BJP’s system. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, in response to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s allegations that the BJP-led government had overlooked the claims of OBCs, Mr. Shah had said that 29% of BJP MPs were from the OBC category, the Union Government had 29 Ministers from the category, the BJP’s OBC MLAs numbered 365 out of a total of 1358, that is, 27% and 40% of BJP MLCs, that is 65 out of 163 were from the OBC category.
It is in fact this assertion by Mr. Shah that will see a challenge from the Opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc parties, according to political scientist Dr. Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Society (CSDS). “Now the Opposition has a tool in their hand to speak to voters that OBC reservations was kept stunted, that the OBCs did not get what was due, even within the reservations given to OBCs the creamy layer was attached etc. That is the Bihar Government with this caste survey that quantified the matter into hard numbers,” said Mr. Kumar.
“The caste survey may in fact be also used to blunt the BJP’s charge on the Women’s Reservation Act and the Opposition’s demand that OBC reservation be granted within that. The effect of this survey as a political weapon will all depend on how well it is communicated to the voter,” he added.
In realpolitik terms, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also gotten a fillip to asserting his leadership within the INDIA bloc parties, where he reportedly tried and failed to get the convenor’s position. With the EBCs accounting for 36% of the State’s population, and Mr. Kumar being credited for fashioning a support base from this category in the last two decades, his claims to the top chair in the INDIA bloc will be hard to ignore.