Report on OBC Sub-quota That May Impact Caste Calculus Could Come Closer to 2019 Polls


New Delhi: The Justice (Retd) G Rohini-led panel appointed by the President has received another extension till November 30 to submit its report on the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The extension was granted after the panel could not finish the “voluminous task” within the earlier set deadline of July 31. This is the third postponement since the first date of March 2018 expired.

The UPA government had also tried to work on sub-categorising OBCs but could not complete the task due to the unavailability of caste census.

Initially, the commission headed by Justice (Retd) G Rohini was given 12 weeks to submit the report to the President. It was asked to “examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of Other Backward Classes, to work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation, and identify the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of Other Backward Classes and classifying them into their respective sub-categories”.

One of the primary hurdles before the commission has been to enumerate the exact numbers under the OBC list and check whether the upper caste OBCs have snatched the benefits intended for the entire community.

The Mandal Commission had brought in some sweeping changes in the country’s political landscape by granting 27% reservation to OBCs. This new panel is now being looked at from the optics of Mandal 2.0 — an attempt by the ruling government to show the lower castes within OBCs that it thinks about them.

However, this move has led to several questions — What will be the fallout of the sub-categorisation? What is the intention of the government behind this in the absence of the latest caste census data?

Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), believes that though the main idea behind the exercise is novel, the ramifications have political concerns at the forefront.

“Look at the Yadavs or Kurmis of Bihar who are already polarised in favour of the RJD or Nitish Kumar and not the BJP. The upper layer of OBCs in UP is also sharply polarised in favour of the Samajwadi Party and others. So, neither the BJP nor the Congress gets a sizeable number of votes among the upper layer.

“The whole idea is to send a message that they are the only ones who care about the lower OBCs. However, the political mileage out of this exercise will only go to the ruling party,” said Kumar.

When the Mandal commission was implemented, reservation was extended to people belonging to the OBC category in both central government jobs and educational institutions.

However, over time, it was perhaps felt that most of the benefits were cornered by the upper layer among OBCs such as Yadavs and Kurmis in UP and Bihar and Vokaaligas and some sections of Lingayats in Karnataka.

Several castes under the OBC category were left out as the upper layer usurped the benefits. Did this form the cornerstone to conduct a Mandal 2.0?

Is empirical data on socio-economic status of OBC sub-castes available?

The Mandal Commission had relied on the 1931 caste census data to propose that India had 54% OBC population and recommended 27% reservation for the caste group.

But since then, the government has conducted a socio-economic and caste census only once in 2011 during the UPA government, the first findings of which were submitted later to the NDA government in July 2015.

However, the full report has not been made public.

The caste data, along with socio-economic indicators, is considered a pandora’s box, which the government may find too hot to handle. Caste enumerations may throw up fresh quota demands based on empirical data, which has not been available since 1931.

News18 had also learnt from sources that a special pro forma was sent to government departments, both central and state, in the last six months, seeking caste break-up within the OBC category. The ministry of social justice is now tabulating and processing the inputs.

However, according to Kumar, such an exercise is faulty.

“This strategy is wrong as schools don’t have this data. If you ask me to give data on how many people in my organisation belong to OBC category, there would be no such data because it was never required. In Bihar, the OBCs have been categorised as Annexure 1 and Annexure 2 for state government jobs. The lower and upper categories were divided. The provision for reservation for Annexure 1 and Annexure 2 was already worked out long ago so this data might be of help to the commission too,” said Kumar.

Another ramification of the exercise could be divisions in the OBC category, with the BJP attempting to reach out to the economically weaker sections by implementing quota within quota.

Political scientist Ajoy Bose called the exercise “political posturing” to gain benefits before the 2019 general elections.

“The government wants to show that they stand for the lower category among the backward class. It’s an attempt to mobilise them and make them their USP. In UP, they got support from the lower backward class in the 2017 assembly polls,” he said.

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