Twin blows to OBCs

Kancha Ilaiah


The backward class politicians failed in forcing the government to undertake a caste-wise census of all sections.

The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the country have had two setbacks in the recent political manoeuvring of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The pushing of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha and also starting the process of census without initiating the caste-based enumeration of population that gets released in 2011.

On both these issues the OBC leadership of the nation has not shown enough strength and imagination to counter the strategies of the ruling Congress. The Congress party was clever enough to work out its strategy around a bill that has a national moral appeal to various sections of people in the country to counter the rise of the OBC political forces.

As of now, the OBCs have no reservation in the legislative bodies. Without having such a reservation, if this bill is passed, OBC men, who are organising their own base in certain constituencies and also in certain regions will slowly get displaced.

The possibilities of many of them losing out because these constituencies get specifically targeted for reservation for women are very much there. The possibility of OBC women getting their own share in parliament and Assemblies is not there because they cannot compete with the upper caste women who have money and material resources.

Of course, on the question of Women's Reservation Bill there is some organised resistance. The Congress might face a critical situation in case it introduces it in the Lok Sabha. Reluctance of many male members of almost all parties may put the the bill in cold storage for some more time. The question of quota within quota is a serious issue and its resolution becomes difficult because unless the OBC reservation in all legislative bodies is introduced, application of the principle to OBC women would become difficult.

The general mood of the upper caste parliamentarians in the country is to oppose the OBC reservation at all levels. On this score, the OBCs may not be able to succeed in achieving reservations in the legislative bodies but they may stall passing of the bill in the present form.

Since Mamata Banerjee is very adamant about the share of Muslims, the resistance to passing the bill in the present form comes from her as well. If only Muslim women get reservation within women's bill, that may help the process of reform among Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular.

Lost opportunity

But at another level, the process of census has already started. Quite tragically, the OBC political class did not show any enthusiasm in forcing the government to obtain the caste-wise census of all sections. Even in this census the question of enumerating the caste-wise division of the people other than that of SCs and STs will not take place.

For the next 10 years on many matters of the OBC reservation their strength remains a disputable issue. Though the upper caste political class has always been opposed to the caste-wise census, the judiciary has been playing a double game on this question. On one hand it has been asking for properly computed numbers of the OBCs and on the other, it refused to direct the Centre to initiate a caste census so that this confusion could be removed.

Collecting the exact population data on each caste would resolve many problems of policy making. In fact, when the 2001 census was taken senior BJP leader L K Advani, as then the home minister mooted that caste should become a category of data mobilisation, but within no time he backed out of it and the data mobilisation was done as usual in old pattern.

Now again there was some debate about caste getting deployed as critical category of data mobilisation, but Union home minister P Chidamabaram always remained silent about such a step. May be because Sonia Gandhi herself was opposed to it. Unfortunately, the DMK — which is playing a crucial role in the UPA, which heralded many agendas of the OBCs — also remained silent on this issue.

Ever since the Mandal agenda was set in motion in the early 1990s the fear of OBC mobilisation is the most significant issue in working out national policies by all upper caste leaders.

Mahatma Jyoti Rao Phule, whose Jayanthi was celebrated on April 11, is becoming a rallying point of OBCs who are divided on many counts. But the problem is in north India. Both Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad don't use Phule as an icon of OBC mobilisation. Their ideological icon is still Ram Manohar Lohia, whom the OBCs of the south and Maharashtra do not accept.

Unless the OBC leaders work around a common iconic figure across the country and build an ideological agenda of transformation of the whole society they will not be able to force the upper castes to accept their critical demands. It is better that all OBC leaders accept Mahatma Phule as their common modern symbol and work for the progress of the OBCs across the nation.

[Courtesy: Deccan Herald, April 24, 2011]

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