Reservation politics between the Centre and the State governments/opposition parties is picking up pace now. The Centre has made a fresh move by bringing in the Constitution (127th) Amendment Bill. So, what is this Amendment all about and how will it affect reservation politics in the country?
To put things in context, it may be noted that last year, the Supreme Court quashed the Maharashtra government’s decision to provide reservations to Marathas. In doing so, the Supreme Court held that as per Article 342A of the Constitution, only the Centre had the power to draw up a list of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The practical implication of the Supreme Court verdict was that whenever a political demand comes up for declaring a specific community as ‘OBC’ for the purposes of reservation, the opposition parties and the state governments could question and blame the Centre for not acting upon such demand. The state governments could easily claim legal disability in granting ‘OBC’ status upon a community.
It is in this backdrop that the Union Cabinet is reportedly set to clear the Constitution (127th) Amendment Bill. The Amendment will be declaratory in nature, and it would amend Articles 342-A and 366 (26C) to empower states to add new castes to the OBC list. It will enable the states and the Union Territories to prepare their own OBC lists, notwithstanding the classes mentioned in the Central list.
The Amendment will also clarify that the term ‘socially and educationally backward classes’ means classes so defined separately in the state government, UT and state lists under Article 342-A.
On the face of it, it might seem as if the Centre is empowering the state government and the UTs. Technically speaking, the effect of the 2020 Supreme Court judgment on the issue will get nullified and powers will get vested in the states on the issue of declaring new communities as belonging to the ‘socially and educationally backward classes’.
However, the political effect of the Amendment will be to put a greater onus on the state governments. It is a part of a political strategy for many regional satraps to make new demands for declaring a community in the state as OBC, mostly during election campaigns. Once the 127th Amendment comes into effect, any such regional satraps can be questioned over their failure to deliver on the promise of including the concerned community in the OBC list for the purpose of reservations and other benefits.
While demands for OBC classification are made time and again, it is not a cakewalk for any political party to fulfil such promises. In terms of Ashok Kumar Thakur v Union of India, a landmark apex court verdict, the maximum permissible limit of the seats that can be earmarked for socially and educationally backward classes is fixed at 27%.
Now, it is not possible for a political party ruling in a state to carve out space for a new community in the limited proportion of seats reserved for the OBCs. At the end of the day, including too many communities in the OBC list too can have its own political repercussions.
The 127th Amendment is thus going to have a massive impact on the politics surrounding reservations as the burden of expanding OBC lists will again fall upon the state governments.