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OBC sub-categorisation is a rehash of BJP’s venomous anti-creamy layer game

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The decision to sub-categorise OBCs for reservation will not help anyone – not the nation, not the upper castes, and certainly not the OBCs.

While submitting the Mandal Commission report in 1980, B.P. Mandal expressed regret in a covering letter that the recommendations weren’t consensus-based. The only Dalit member of the commission, former member of Parliament L.R. Naik, had submitted a note of dissent. The appendix contained Naik’s note.

Naik referred to two broad social categories within the ‘Other Backward Classes’ – intermediate backward classes and depressed backward classes. His categorisations were occupation-based – farmer OBCs and artisan OBCs. Naik said the latter were weak and could not compete with the former.

He had recommended splitting the OBC quota into two, just to protect interests of the weakest within the OBCs.

With its latest move to divide the OBC quota, it is interesting to study what the BJP government is targeting. Is it reflecting Naik’s note?

In 1990, when Prime Minister V.P. Singh announced the implementation of the Mandal recommendations, he didn’t acknowledge Naik’s note. He either didn’t read the report’s first page, or ignored Naik’s important input. Other political parties, including the BSP, had nothing to say on Naik’s opinion.

As a result, even today, it is very difficult to spot a constable named Chaurasia, or a school teacher with the title Konhar.

There have been three versions of social justice in India. One is the anti-Brahminism practiced in the Tamil Nadu, another is the anti-upper caste politics as argued by socialists in the north. The third, the Dalit version, is all about representation of the community in the state, governance, and the capital-creating private sector.

The entire Mandal theatrics let artisan OBCs remain guest spectators. Then, the BJP’s ‘Kamandal’ politics tried to massage the bleeding upper caste sense of victimhood created by the heat of Mandal.

But that didn’t endure. That is when the BJP began pushing the ‘creamy layer’ theory – something that would defeat the very purpose of reservations, including those of Dalits.

The essence of reservation in India or affirmative action in the United States is meant to create a middle class/creamy layer/role models from excluded social categories. It is this reservation-produced creamy layer that plays the role of social moderators. The creamy layer is not a negative thing, as it is portrayed in public rhetoric. It is actually an aspirational role model for the community.

Restricting the creamy layer blocks the creation of a ‘role model’ segment within the OBCs too.

If the BJP is playing the venomous anti-creamy layer game, it helps no one – not the nation, nor the upper castes. It makes an appearance of offering some solace to the upper castes – that an OBC IAS father will, at best, have a constable son or daughter, not beyond that.

Is the new OBC sub-categorisation debate a revised and updated edition of the ‘creamy layer’ debate? Or is the BJP government just interested in projecting that it cares for artisan OBCs? Or is it meant to mobilise the rest of the OBCs against Yadavs, and split their vote-bloc? This would be similar to what the BJP is trying to do among Dalits – by mobilising all others Dalits against the Jatavs.

Also, what will the BJP’s Bihar partner Nitish Kumar do if his community, the Kurmis, are also affected, along with the Yadavs?

So far, no BJP spokesperson has explained the motives. The secrecy surrounding the OBC sub-categorisation decision is turning more and more inexplicable.

The author is an Dalit entrepreneur and columnist

Also read: Modi’s new vote: Sub-categorisation set to bring OBCs into BJP fold

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