New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has decided to put a controversial proposal regarding OBC quota eligibility rules on the backburner ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the BJP said the government doesn’t want to “stir the hornet’s nest” in the run-up to the Bihar elections, which are scheduled for later this year.
The Modi government is said to be looking to increase the income cap for the creamy layer category of the other backward classes (OBCs), from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh, besides making salary earnings a part of the gross annual income that serves as the basis to determine a candidate’s eligibility for quota.
While the proposed increase in the income ceiling is expected to benefit more OBCs, the issue of salary inclusion — meant to make the process more transparent — drew fire from OBC leaders and intellectuals, who projected it as a move that would neutralise the gains brought by the Mandal Commission.
The proposed changes had been cleared by a group of ministers (GoM) headed by Rajnath Singh at a February meeting that was also attended by Home Minister Amit Shah.
Even as officials were in the process of sending it to the Cabinet for approval, the government decided to refer it back to the GoM in what sources say is an attempt to delay a decision until after the Bihar polls. “Before the Cabinet considers the matter, it was felt that the political implications of the decision have to be studied in greater detail and it will be referred back to the GoM that had studied it earlier,” said a senior leader.
Although poorer sections would benefit from the changes, there has been opposition from government employees in the B and C categories who may get affected by the provisions, the source added.
Any bid to tamper with the quota system, even perceived, is likely to cost the BJP heavily in the Bihar elections, as it did in 2015.
During the campaign for the 2015 assembly election in the state, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called for a review of reservation, a statement that is believed to have heavily dented the BJP’s tally in Bihar, where caste calculations are said to hold the key to election wins and losses.
‘Studying in detail’
The OBCs are entitled to 27 per cent reservation in government jobs and admission to educational institutions. However, the creamy layer among them is excluded from such benefits.
Under the current rules, a household with an annual income of Rs 8 lakh or above is classified as belonging to the ‘creamy layer’ among OBCs and hence is not eligible for reservation in government jobs and government-funded educational institutions. What exactly qualifies as income, however, remains steeped in confusion.
Those who hold constitutional positions and enter Class-A positions in the government sector are also automatically included in the creamy layer.
The decision to not touch the OBC issue right now and study it in “much greater detail” comes after a few BJP leaders conveyed to the party that the matter should not be raised before the Bihar elections.
After the 2015 setback in Bihar and the recent losses in assembly elections, the BJP leadership is not willing to take any chance, sources said. In Bihar, according to a rough estimate, over 40 per cent of the population is OBC. “The proposal had got a go-ahead from the GoM and was studied minutely. By increasing the income limit, more people will be able to take benefits. This will only increase the number of beneficiaries. But it seems on the ground this is not how the issue is being perceived and which is why a need was felt to examine it further,” said a source in the government.
The Bihar elections follow a series of poll losses for the BJP since 2018. The party lost the 2020 Delhi and 2019 Jharkhand elections, and was unable to form the government in Maharashtra despite emerging as the single-largest party. The Bihar election is also important for the party as, despite being in an alliance with the JD(U), it has lately tried to position itself as the leading partner, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah leading from the front.