To form a government and win elections, it has been a tried and tested method to include the caste equation of the voters. However, since 2014, the progressive style of politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has forced the opposition to do a course correction. As a result, their stocks have plummeted amongst the Indian voters and with the fear rising amongst the opposition ranks that Modi 3.0 can be a reality. Come 2024 elections, the parties have started setting the ground to bring the bygone Mandal era of caste politics to give one last push to their dormant political ambitions.
Parties like Samajwadi Party, BahujanSamaj Party and Janata Dal United that have solely prospered along the caste lines are agitating against the government to conduct a caste based census to essentially cover the Other Backward Class (OBC).
Ever since independence, no census has covered the OBC and the current regime is not looking to change the status quo. At the time of the 2011 census, the government agreed to conduct a separate census called the Socio Economic Caste Census but its caste-wise data was never made public. The only caste-wise data the next census would collate would be on Dalits and Adivasis, the same as every census.
Nitish, Akhilesh and Mayawati through their demands want to project that the BJP is an anti-OBC party and thus want to intrude into the OBC votebank that has sided with the saffron party.
While the said idea looks solid on paper, the BJP leadership is already two steps ahead to counter it. BJP has implemented the pending OBC reservation in NEET. As reported by TFI last week, the Central Government approved 27 per cent OBC and 10 per cent EWS quota reservation to All India Quota (AIQ) seats of state-run Medical and Dental colleges.The extension of quota to state colleges will benefit around 1,500 OBC students in MBBS and 2,500 in postgraduate OBC students every year, according to the Government of India.
At the same time, the central government is now mulling to amend the constitution and give the right to states to decide which caste should be kept under OBC on the basis of the socio-educational backwardness of the castes.
According to a Hindustan Times report, centre will introduce in the ongoing session of the parliament a bill to restore the power of states to identify backward castes after it was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday. The unique thing about OBC reservation is that it is given on the basis of socio-economic-educational backwardness. There will be two direct benefits to BJP from the decentralisation of this power to the states.
First, the states which claim to have a better understanding than the centre will have to make the necessary decisions. Secondly, the political advantage that will come the ruling party’s way. By putting the ball in states’ court, the central government will sit back and see if the regional parties practice what they preach. Will they include the castes they appeared to bat for in the list or will they only focus on castes that bring the maximum votes? This quandary will expose the reality of the regional parties and their so called love for the downtrodden.
While the opposition makes baseless claims that BJP gives a cold shoulder to OBCs, the PM in his recent cabinet reshuffle and expansion, gave 27 seats to leaders from the OBC community. After laying the foundation stone for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust delivered the first prasad to the house of a Dalit Mahaveer in Ayodhya, which explains the shift in the Dalit votes to the BJP.
The central government taking a prudent approach has offloaded the caste based census and its related effect on reservation on the shoulder of the states. If the bill passes, the states will have the opportunity to lead from the front but given how little the parties care for any community, other than the precious vote they bring, it is little difficult to be optimist.