Empowering the OBCs: PM Modi walks the talk

Hailing the passage of the OBC Bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it underscored his government’s commitment to ensuring dignity, opportunity and justice to the marginalised sections. “Passage of the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021 in both Houses is a landmark moment for our nation. This Bill furthers social empowerment. It also reflects our government’s commitment to ensuring dignity, opportunity and justice to the marginalised sections,” the PM said, in a tweet. The power of States and Union Territories to make their own OBC lists for the purpose of reservation in jobs and educational institutes has been restored. Once the Bill becomes an Act, it will help 671 communities, that in effect tantamount to about one-fifth of the total OBCs in the country, as per reports. Basically,the 127th Amendment Bill seeks to restore powers to States to notify backward classes, bypassing an earlier May 5, 2021 verdict of the Supreme Court which allowed only the Centre to notify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs).

What was the Supreme Court’s May 5, 2021 verdict? In a categorical verdict, while hearing the Maratha quota issue, the Supreme Court had on May 5,2021 upheld the 102nd Constitutional Amendment, saying that the President, based on the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), would determine which communities would be included on the State OBC list. The 102nd Amendment Act raised the issue of the single Central list of SEBCs taking away the powers of the States to prepare their own list of OBCs. The Supreme Court, in its categorical ruling on May 5, also directed that following the amendment, states did not have power to identify SEBCs, separately from the Centre. The Central government filed a review petition challenging the top Court’s order, which was dismissed. Eventually, the Centre came up with the bill to undo the Supreme Court ruling.

What is the 102nd Constitutional Amendment? The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act inserted three new articles, namely, 342A, 366 (26C) and 338B, in the Constitution. Of these, 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes, and 342A that deals with the powers of the President of India to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Communities (SEBCs) and the power of Parliament to change the list. Article 366 (26C) defines SEBCs. “In the task of identification of SEBCs, the President shall be guided by the Commission set up under Article 338B; its advice shall also be sought by the state in regard to policies that might be framed by it. If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the state government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B. However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e. the Central Government, under Article 342A (1), by reason of Article 367 read with Section 3 (8) (b) General Clauses Act),” the Apex Court judgment of May 5, 2021, upholding the 102nd Amendment, said.

“The States’ power to make reservations, in favour of particular communities or castes, the quantum of reservations, the nature of benefits and the kind of reservations, and all other matters falling within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16 – except with respect to identification of SEBCs, remains undisturbed,” the May 5, 2021 judgement had further said.

What is the 127th Amendment Bill? Well,following the amendment in Articles 366 (26C) and 338B (9), States will now be able to directly notify OBC and SEBCs without having to refer to the NCBC and the OBC lists prepared by States will be taken out of the domain of the President and can be notified by the Assemblies of concerned States. Nearly 671 OBC communities would have lost access to reservation in educational institutions and in appointments if the State lists had been abolished, as per 102nd Amendment. The 127th Amendment, however, restores power to the States, superseding the 102nd Amendment, thereby displaying, among other things, Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to cooperative federalism. “The legislative intent at the time of passing of the Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 was that it deals with the central list of the socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). It recognises the fact that even prior to the declaration of the Central List of SEBCs in 1993, many States/Union territories are having their own State List/Union territory List of OBCs,” the statement in the 127th Amendment Bill notes.

The Congress Party that was in government for the longest time at the Centre never cared for the OBCs.The absolutely shoddy treatment meted out to the Kaka Kalelkar Commission by then PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, was repeated with the B.P. Mandal Commission, by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Adhering to Article 340 of the Constitution of India, the First Backward Classes Commission was set up by a Presidential order on 29 January, 1953 under the Chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. Nehru, however, unceremoniously, threw the Kalelkar committee proposals in the bin. The BJP-supported V.P. Singh government at the Centre, implemented the Mandal Commission, which was opposed tooth and nail by Rajiv Gandhi, both inside and outside the Parliament. It is obvious and unfortunate to note that whenever Congress came to power, the Party’s biased and anti-OBC psyche prevented it from strengthening the OBC community. From the political victimization of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, B.P. Mandal, Karpoori Thakur, K. Kamaraj, Devaraj Urs to V.P. Singh, Arjun Singh, Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot, the Congress Party has an unenviable track record. In fact, an anti-reservation Congress was always opposed to the idea of giving reservation to either SC/STs or OBCs in the all-India quota (AIQ) for medical seats. AIQ in medical seats was introduced in 1986 only on the instructions of the Supreme Court of India.

It is the Narendra Modi-led government again, which gave constitutional status to National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC) in 2018, after almost three decades of the Mandal Commission implementation.

The inclusion of 12 SCs, 8 STs, and 27 OBC ministers in the recent Cabinet reshuffle in July 2021, speaks volumes about the Modi government’s commitment to OBCs.At 35%, OBC representation in the Modi Cabinet today, is the highest ever in post-independent India.

There have been demands for creating categories within OBCs to ensure equitable distribution of the quota benefit to all. Some states such as Bihar have experimented with the sub-categorisation and carved the reservation for extremely backward classes within the OBC reservation. In October 2017, the Centre constituted the Rohini commission to examine the sub-categorisation and submit a report within 12 weeks. What has the Draft Rohini Commission recommended? It said, around 2633 castes are covered under the OBC reservation. The States have the flexibility to add castes to the Central list, depending on local deprivation levels determined by local OBC commissions. In February 2021, the Commission proposed to divide the 27% reservation for the castes on the Central list into four sub-categories. While some have welcomed the sub-categorisation, experts believe the idea of sub-categorisation would be a meaningless exercise and could potentially polarise the society along caste lines.Experts believe that sharing the caste data could create more divide in the society and lead to renewed demands for reducing quota for certain castes and increasing it for others. There is also a fear that a repeat of the 1911 caste census could happen, when the so-called upper castes were declared a social minority.

The 1931 census, the last caste-based census, was conducted primarily to identify the ways through which a colonial power could strengthen its stranglehold. The data was used to create a separate vote-bank in the 1980s, by leaders, who emerged from Jai Prakash Narayan’s anti-corruption movement and led to the creation of Janata Dal. Experts believe something similar is being attempted now through the sub-categorisation of the OBC quota. Some opposition parties know that a new caste census can help them to create a new vote-bank of socially and economically deprived sections among the OBCs. At this stage, many experts believe that the social costs of a caste census far outweigh the benefits and a caste census may not be a great idea. States already have enough information at their disposal in any case, which they can use to give targetted benefits of government schemes including reservations to deprived groups. The need for a caste census, therefore, at this stage, stands mitigated to that extent.

The Modi government recently announced a 27% reservation for OBCs and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS), in medical courses, in various medical courses including MBBS, MD, MS, BDS, MDS and diplomas, from the current academic year.

This showcases PM Modi’s commitment to Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwaas and Sabka Prayaas, in more ways than one. Do note that, there was no reservation in the AIQ scheme until the Supreme Court intervened and introduced a reservation of 15% for SCs and 7.5% for STs in 2007. “When the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act became effective in 2007, providing for uniform 27% reservation to OBCs, the same was implemented in all the Central Educational Institutions viz. Safdarjung Hospital, Lady Harding Medical College, Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University etc. However, this was not extended to the AIQ seats of State medical and dental colleges,” said the Health ministry. Now however, that is possible. According to the Health ministry, nearly 1500 OBC students in MBBS and 2500 OBC students in post graduation and also around 550 EWS students in MBBS and around 1000 EWS students in post graduation, would benefit from the Modi government’s historic decision, every year. The reservation was announced under the all India quota (AIQ) scheme. The AIQ scheme was introduced in 1986 under the directions of the Supreme Court to provide for domicile-free merit-based opportunities to students from any State, who aspire to study in a good medical college located in another State.“All India Quota consists of 15% of total available UG seats and 50% of total available PG seats in government medical colleges,” the Health ministry said in a statement, to this effect.

A moot point to be noted here is that, for decades, political Parties like the SP and BSP simply paid lip service to the cause of OBCs who form a dominant 43-45% of the total population in Uttar Pradesh.OBC sub-groups whether it is non Yadavs, Kurmis, Koeris or others were repeatedly let down by the likes of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. However, the BJP’s acceptance among these “Other non Yadav OBCs” rose three-and-a-half times between 2012 and 2014 (from 17% to 60%).This number is crucial as “Other non-Yadav OBCs” constitute over 25% of UP’s total population. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one-fourth of BJP’s total votes came from this section alone. These numbers have only improved in subsequent elections. Importantly, while the SP only focussed on the Yadavs, the BJP focussed on both Yadav and non-Yadav OBCs without discriminating between the two and it is this politics of inclusivity that helped the BJP to become the dominant political force in UP, which till 2014, had always been driven by a Yadav centric, caste matrix.

During the last seven years, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on science ,education,medicine and innovation, MBBS Seats in the country have increased by 56% from 54348 seats in 2014 to 84649 seats in 2020. The number of PG seats have increased by 80% from 30191 seats in 2014 to 54275 seats in 2020. During the same period, 179 new medical colleges have been established and now India boasts of 558 medical colleges, including 289 government and 269 private colleges. It would be apt to conclude by saying that while successive Congress regimes only paid lip service to the cause of OBCs and the marginalised, it is the Modi government that finally brought to fruition various reforms to ensure that the benefits of inclusivity and development are made accessible to one and all cutting through swathes of divisive rhetoric. “I believe growth should be constant, sustained and inclusive. It is only meaningful if these three things are there. Otherwise, they’re just economic figures”, is a powerful quote by Prime Minister Modi, encompassing the essence of what his government stands for.

The writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.

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