The Yogi Adityanath government, on the surface, may have lost the ‘caste’ test this week when the Centre declared its decision to issue SC certificates to 17 OBC groups in Uttar Pradesh “not appropriate” and “unconstitutional”.
In political parlance, these OBC groups fall under the most or extremely backward castes (MBCs or EBCs).
Similar attempts to bring these Other Backward Classes (OBCs) under the Scheduled Caste (SC) category by the Samajwadi Party have also failed the test of constitutionality in the past.
Under Article 341 of the Indian Constitution, the power to include or exclude any caste, race of group from the SC list is vested with Parliament.
Did the Yogi government deliberately try to bypass or subvert the Constitution? There are no clear answers to this. But the power corridors of UP are abuzz with theories that suggest the state government’s move could have been politically motivated and was a win-win strategy.
Despite the Centre rejecting it, the Yogi government can still take a moral high ground and claim that it tried helping the MBCs, but the move was stonewalled.
The OBCs today are a key vote-bank for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with a survey suggesting that nearly 60 per cent of them voted for Narendra Modi-led party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Ahead of the 2022 assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath government too is going all out to woo the OBCs, with a special focus on the MBCs. That explains the decision to issue SC certificates to the 17 groups, which include Kashyap, Rajbhar, Dhivar, Bind, Kumhar, Kahar, Kewat, Nishad, Bhar, Mallah, Prajapati, Dhimar, Batham, Turha, Godia, Manjhi and Machua communities.
The BJP, since 2014, has been trying to mobilise the MBCs by arguing that the dominant OBCs, like Yadavs, Jats and Kurmis, are cornering all the benefits of reservation in education and jobs while the MBCs get nothing.
Although the BJP has not provided any data for this argument, the idea has taken root among the MBCs.
Based on this hypothesis, the BJP mooted the idea of bifurcation of the OBCs at the central level. In 2017, a commission was set-up under Article 340 of the Constitution to suggest methods for the division or sub-categorisation of the OBCs. Justice G. Rohini, the retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, was appointed the chairperson of the commission. A similar exercise was undertaken in UP too.
Despite numerous extensions, the Rohini commission has not submitted its report yet. In UP, however, the Most Backward Social Justice Committee (MBSJC) has already submitted its report to the Yogi government. According to media reports, the UP commission has recommended a three-way division of the OBC quota.
Has BJP dumped the idea of OBC bifurcation?
Although the BJP has not shelved the plan for OBC bifurcation, the repeated extensions to the Rohini Commission suggest that it is in no hurry to implement it either. In UP too, the party doesn’t seem to be in a mood to implement the recommendations of the MBSJC report.
There can be three explanations for this:
- The BJP has already tilted the balance of caste arithmetic in its favour by garnering almost 60 per cent of the OBC votes. It does not want to destabilise the caste balance it has painstakingly built over the years.
- The OBC bifurcation is an idea that can cause heartburn among the powerful, dominant OBCs. Except the Yadavs, the Jats, Kurmis, Koeries have all supported the BJP in UP in the Lok Sabha elections. According to Lokniti-CSDS survey, 91 per cent Jats and 80 per cent Kurmi-Koeris voted for the BJP. These are the castes that have benefitted the most from the reservation policies. But given how they backed the BJP in the elections, the party can ill afford to antagonise them.
- The MBCs too have voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, they would expect the BJP to do something for them.
But the Yogi government issuing SC certificates to the MBCs was just an eyewash. The chief minister probably knew it would fail the test of constitutionality. But he managed to successfully signal the BJP’s important constituents.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.