News Analysis | Debate on OBC bill a new avatar of Mandal politics

Demands by regional parties are seen as ways to seize the political momentum from BJP

August 11, 2021 06:23 pm | Updated August 12, 2021 01:31 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug 11, 2021.

A view of the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug 11, 2021.

The debate on the Constitution 127thAmendment Bill in both Houses of Parliament during the just concluded monsoon session saw growing demands by political parties across the board, including NDA allies and in one inadvertent case from a BJP MP as well, that a caste-based census be now undertaken. Such an exercise, revealing the true extent of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) population, would then lead to raising the 50% cap on reservations currently in place.

The two demands made with more strength than before are significant in the way they point to the fulcrum around which Mandal politics, in its third avatar is likely to revolve. Regional parties especially those that came up in the aftermath of the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in the 1990s are at the forefront of these demands.

Successful campaign by Modi

In the last few elections especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, these parties have seen a successful campaign by the BJP headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in parsing the non dominant sections of the OBC from the dominant communities belonging to that category, reaching out to them to build a powerful coalition of upper castes, non-dominant communities among the OBCs and among the Scheduled Castes as well.

In ticket distribution and in terms of ministry berths and in certain legislative interventions, the BJP has managed to make its version of Mandal work for it, along with a powerful Hindutva rhetoric.

The Union government under Prime Minister Modi however has not revealed the findings of the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) done in 2011, and the Justice G. Rohini Commission set up to look into sub-categorisation of OBCs for reservations in jobs and educational institutions is yet to submit its report, and currently on its 11th extension since being set up in October 2017.

Demands by regional parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), etc for the BJP to emperically establish the correct number of OBCs and take the matter to its logical conclusion of raising the 50% cap on reservations are therefore, in pure political terms, seen as ways to call the BJP’s bluff on its commitment to OBCs and seize the political momentum as well.

Coupled with this demand, the Mandal parties especially point to the 10% sub-categorisation within the general category reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among the upper castes. The message being conveyed by regional parties is clear: That the BJP’s actions over the OBCs is to be balanced out by imperatives to keep upper castes on its side.

For the BJP, despite having the largest number of OBC MPs, having divided the largest number of ministerial berths and election tickets to the OBC communities, it is important to balance the upper caste sentiments especially in a State like Uttar Pradesh where they comprise nearly 18-20% of voters.

Delicate situation

It puts the government led by the BJP at the Centre in a delicate situation. A situation that party MPs say could be ameliorated by finally pushing through a sub-categorisation plan for reservations in jobs. “It is an inevitable development and it would be better if the party pushes for it and seizes the initiative,” a former Union Minister and current MP from the BJP told The Hindu . There is speculation that a fresh SECC may be undertaken after the 2021 census is concluded.

The forces of social and political mobility unleashed by the Mandal Commission recommendations are unfurling in each decade in a different way. The nature of democratic politics is such that these changes and mutations are inevitable and will become more and more so. For political parties therefore, especially the BJP, it may be time to draft plans to re-engineer their social engineering formula, this time to accommodate the third coming of Mandal.

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