The OBCs are almost absent in higher judiciary and secretary-level positions in the bureaucracy.
More than half of the country’s population belongs to the Other Backward Class (OBC) community. And, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that he is an OBC. In such a scenario it will be interesting to see what the current government has done for the OBCs.
During the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014 when the election campaign fever was at its peak, leaders of all parties were making promises and claims, and leveling allegations against the other. In a public meeting in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi mocked and targeted the Congress party and its leaders. Next day, Priyanka Gandhi responded: “Narendra Modi in Amethi has insulted my martyr father. For this neech rajniti (lowly politics), each polling booth in Amethi will exact revenge.”
It was as if Narendra Modi was waiting for such a statement by Priyanka Gandhi. The very next day, in another public meeting at Domariaganj, Uttar Pradesh, he said, “Yes, it is right that I am born into a lower caste, but my dream is one unified India, a superior India… Give me as many abuses as you want, let Modi be hanged, but do not insult my lower caste brethren”. He tweeted the same day, “I have risen from a socially backward class, so my politics would be ‘lowly politics’ for those people.”
In the next tweet, he further clarifies that “maybe some people do not see it, but the selflessness, sacrifice and courage of the lower castes play a crucial role in uplifting the country to such heights”.
Once again in 2017, a similar incident took place in the run-up to the Gujarat election when Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said, “Narendra Modi is a lowly kind of person, he is not at all civilised”. Modi responded to the barb at a public meeting the next day and said, “Mani Shankar Aiyar told me that I belong to a lower caste and he called us the dirty gutter worm (gandi nali ka keeda). Is it not an insult to Gujarat and Gujarati people?”
Narendra Modi belongs to the ‘Modh Ghanchi’ caste of Gujarat. He constantly wears his lower caste identity on his sleeves, and never forgets to mention it. His repeated utterance regarding his caste perhaps connects him with the OBCs who comprise 52 per cent of the country’s total population. This figure is articulated by the Mandal Commission based on the 1931 Census; caste groups except SC/STs were never enumerated since 1931. The caste data of Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC 2011), which was conducted between 2011 and 2016, has not been made public.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what major steps have been taken by Narendra Modi for the OBCs. According to the BJP, providing constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) is one of the major achievements of the current government. A new Article 338B has been added to the Constitution by enacting the Constitution (123rdAmendment) Bill. This bill has been passed by consensus in Parliament. The NCBC now has the powers of a civil court. These include: (i) summoning people and examining them on oath, (ii) requiring production of any document or public record, and (iii) receiving evidence. The NCBC now has the right to study the condition of the backward castes. It can also inquire into specific complaints regarding violation of rights, and give advice and make recommendations on socio-economic development of such classes. Now, this commission has got the same status as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes or the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
The BJP is boasting about the government’s initiative of enhancing the status of the NCBC, but it is difficult to say if this will change the lives of the OBCs and how exactly that’s going to happen. This seems more of a symbolic act. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes or the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has not proved to be effective although both have had constitutional status for long.
Another big step taken by the BJP for the OBCs is the formation of a commission for their bifurcation into sub-groups. On 2 October 2017, the central government issued a notification for formation of a commission under Article 340 of the Constitution. This commission has been entrusted with three tasks: (i) to examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the OBCs, (ii) to work out the mechanism, criteria and parameters for sub-categorization, (iii) to take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities in the OBCs and classifying them into sub-categories. The Commission was given 12 weeks to submit its report.
The BJP has claimed that the commission, headed by retired Justice G. Rohini, will help the extremely backward castes get justice. The rationale behind the formation of this commission is that backwardness among the OBCs is not even and hence benefits of the reservation policy are not evenly distributed. As a result, several castes under the OBC category are left out with the upper layer usurping the benefits. Therefore, the OBC category should be split. There are already sub categories among backward castes in as many as seven states.
But the commission, which had to give its report in 12 weeks, has not been able to submit it even after 12 months. The government has extended the commission’s term thrice and the report is now expected to be submitted by 20 November. Looking at the commission’s pace of work and the challenges it is facing, it is anybody’s guess if the new deadline can be met.
We don’t know at this stage what steps the Modi government intends to take on this report and what will be their effect on the OBC politics and the politics of the country. This may be one of the game-changers in OBC politics.
As far as government schemes for the OBCs are concerned, the government is not claiming anything big. The government has turned down the demand for a separate ministry for the OBCs.
The responsibility for the development of the OBCs is under the ministry of social justice and empowerment, which also has to work for the development of the Scheduled Castes, elderly, drug addicts, beggars, transgender and physically challenged.
For the upliftment of all these sections of people, the ministry received only Rs 8,820 crore in the Union Budget of 2018-19.
Of this allocation, the budget for OBCs was only Rs 1,745 crore. Considering the population of the OBCs, which is around 70 crore, the annual expenditure of the central government on each OBC person is a meagre Rs 25. This amount in itself is divided among nine different government schemes for the OBCs. There is also a National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation, which has an annual budget of only Rs 100 crore, which is taken out from the Rs 1,745 crore allocation. This fund is responsible for giving loans to OBC entrepreneurs.
The budgetary allocation shows how serious the government is about development of the backward class entrepreneurs. It’s true that this anomaly is not a creation of the Modi government. All these problems are a continuation of the previous Congress-led governments’ policy. But circumstances have not changed under this government too, which is headed by a self-proclaimed OBC leader.
The participation of the OBCs in higher levels of governance is low and there is no change in the current situation as compared to the Congress rule. Their representation in Group-1 central government jobs is merely 13.01 per cent. In Group-2 jobs, the representation of OBCs is 14.78 per cent. The OBCs are almost absent in higher judiciary, secretary-level positions in the bureaucracy and in PSUs and banks. The BJP is not even claiming that the representation of the OBCs in bureaucracy has increased.
In such a situation, will Prime Minister Modi still boast about his OBC status in the next parliamentary election? Keep an eye on the BJP’s 2019 manifesto.
The author is a senior journalist.