The Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021, has amended the constitution to allow states and union territories to prepare their own list of socially and educationally backward classes, which expectedly led to a clamour for reservations for different groups in the parliament, and its repercussions were witnessed across the country soon. The bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 9 August, was passed unanimously by the Lower House of the parliament on 10 August. It was passed with cross-party support in the Rajya Sabha on 11 August.
With this, different caste groups have erupted in various states, demanding their recognition as Other Backward Classes (OBC) as provisioned by the BP Mandal Commission recommendations in the early 1990s by the PV Narasimha Rao government after the VP Singh government failed to implement the outdated commission’s report.
And where no group is hitting the streets with demonstrations and strikes, political parties are demanding it for certain groups to muster their favour in elections, as the BJP is doing in Maharashtra (later in this report).
The Panchamasali community, the numerically strong sub-sect among Lingayats, has set September 15 deadline for the State government to decide on 2A reservation.
Addressing reporters in Hubballi on 12 August along with Panchamasali leaders Vijayanand Kashappanavar and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, Panchamasali Peetha seer Sri Basavajaya Mrutyunjaya Swami said a round table conference of the community held in Hubballi on August 12 had passed five resolutions, including launching an indefinite agitation from October 1 if their demands were not met.
After the ‘Panchamasali Padatatra’ and subsequent raising of the issue in the legislature by Yatnal, then Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had sought six months to decide on providing 2A reservation to the community with the then home minister and present Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai playing mediator.
“The six months will be over on 15 September. We want the government to decide on the issue by 15 September,” the seer said.
He said the community has faith in Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai as he had played mediator and was supportive of their demand.
As the Backward Classes Commission, to which the issue has been referred, had not been able to hold further meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had been requested to submit its report to the government at the earliest.
PWD Minister CC Patil, who attended the August 12 meeting in Hubballi, had been authorised to mediate between the State government and the community on the issue. He has promised to arrange a meeting with the Chief Minister at the earliest, the seer said.
The Maharashtra government has decided to provide 1% reservation to orphans in government jobs and education. The decision was cleared in the state cabinet meeting held on Wednesday. The policy was first formulated in 2018 but could not be implemented owing to technical difficulties which have been removed, said state women and child development minister Yashomati Thakur.
She also declared that the state would provide jobs to all candidates who appeared for examinations for government jobs but could not get it owing to delay in results. “All those, who have appeared for exams but could get it because of delay in declaring results, will now be accommodated in the government jobs,” Thakur told reporters at Sahyadri guest house after the cabinet meeting.
In the revised policy, the state government has divided orphans into three categories: A, B and C. The first two categories are eligible for reservations in government jobs and educational schemes while those in the third category will be eligible only for educational schemes, officials said.
The 1% reservation to orphans will be provided based on the total number of positions in jobs and the number of seats in admissions. Criteria such as age, educational qualifications etc. for becoming eligible under the policy is similar to the existing norms determined for the Scheduled Caste category, said a senior official from the women and child development department.
“The state was facing difficulties in providing the same benefits to all kinds of orphans, and thus made the desired changes, making it feasible,” said another senior official, wishing not to be named.
According to the revised policy, orphans who have no idea about their parents, siblings, relatives, village, address, etc. will fall in the first (A) category. Those who have lost their parents, and whose documents do not mention their caste or those who do not have a caste certificate, and orphans brought up at orphanages will come under the second (B) category. Those who have lost their parents before adulthood and were brought up by relatives and have details of their caste will fall in the last (C) category.
Meanwhile, launching a counter-attack on the MVA allies, BJP state unit president Chandrakant Patil said the state government is not keen on ensuring reservation for the Marathas as an OBC. He said it needs to first carry out a fresh study to declare the community as backward.
“Till the time the state government does not set up a Backward Commission and ensure a study is carried out, it is simply not possible to grant reservation to the Maratha community. The issue of 50% limit in reservations comes much after. Instead of doing what it must, the government is looking for excuses to blame the Centre,” he said.
The Narendra Modi government on 10 August had claimed that increasing the percentage of reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from 27% to 50% in the all-India quota medical seats, as being demanded by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), would not benefit students from Tamil Nadu in a big way and that a majority of those seats would end up being garnered by OBCs from other States.
Appearing before Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu, Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj contended that on July 20, 2020, a Bench led by the then Chief Justice AP Sahi had only ordered that OBCs would be entitled to reservations in the all-India quota and the bench did not rule that the State reservation policy of 50% should be applied while filling such quota. The ASG pointed out that the all-India quota was basically a creation of the Supreme Court and that it was filled up without any reservation until the Supreme Court in 2006 ordered reservation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Subsequently, the SC/STs were provided 15% and 7.5% respectively as per the central reservation policy.
Pointing out that Tamil Nadu follows the 69% reservation policy of providing 50% to OBCs, 18% to SCs and 1% to STs, Natraj said the State government never objected to the quantum of reservations when it came to SCs and STs and was now wanting the state-specific reservation policy to be followed when it came to implementing reservation for OBCs.
“Even assuming their argument is accepted, Tamil Nadu students won’t get those seats. They are arguing to the detriment of their own students and the State as well,” the ASG said.
Finally, the INC on 11 August asked the government to start working towards implementing reservations in the private sector. The demand was made by INC MP and Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge during a discussion in Rajya Sabha on a Constitutional amendment bill to restore the powers of the states to make their own OBC lists. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, with 187 members voting in its favour, and no one opposing it.
Several MPs also spoke in favour of reservation in the private sector, including Bahujan Samaj Party MP Ritesh Pandey.
“In modern India, the importance of reservation is being reduced. In Uttar Pradesh, most of the jobs are contractual and private, so how will you implement this reservation? You are simply trying to mislead the people. You are reducing government jobs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Social Welfare Minister Veerendra Kumar thanked all MPs for supporting the bill and said that the intent of the government is reflected in its decision to enable states to make their backward class list.
“As far as the issue of the 50 per cent ceiling is concerned, the government is of the view that it should be discussed at length. However, as the Supreme Court has reiterated this ceiling it requires careful consideration on legal and constitutional aspects,” he said.
Parties fall over one another to demand more and more reservations
Two days ago, a caste-based census, removal of the 50% ceiling on reservations and a separate ministry for the OBC were some of the demands raised by the Opposition during a debate on the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021.
The bill, which was introduced on 9 August, was adopted with a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha the next day. It empowers states and union territories to identify and notify their own lists of OBCs.
The bill also, significantly, forged a rare unity in Parliament between opposition parties and the Narendra Modi government in the ongoing monsoon session, which has otherwise been a washout due to continuous disruptions by the Opposition.
The demand for a caste-based census was a primary demand that was raised by opposition leaders and BJP allies, including Janata Dal (United) and Apna Dal, alike.
JD(U) leader Chandeshwar Prasad voiced support for the bill but maintained that a caste census should be conducted. “Our leader Nitish Kumar has already made his views on caste-based census and his intent quite clear,” he said.
Rajiv Ranjan ‘Lalan’ Singh, another JD(U) MP, also stressed the need for the census, noting that the population of all communities have gone up and it is important to know their exact population.
Meanwhile, Apna Dal leader Anurpiya Patel, who is also the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, noted that there was no clear data on backward communities, which is imperative to take policy decisions and prepare programmes for them.
Other parties such as the Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress Party and the Biju Janata Dal also called for a caste-based census.
During the course of the debate, several opposition leaders linked the passage of the bill to the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Dayanidhi Maran, an MP from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), said he hoped the UP elections came every year and also highlighted Tamil Nadu’s role in recognising the concerns of the backward classes.
“Who pushed V.P. Singh out for implementing the Mandal Commission? It was the BJP and we will never forget it. Where is the caste-based census? 27 ministers are OBC in BJP, why? Because of the UP elections. I hope UP elections come every year!” said Maran.
While extending support for the bill, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also taunted the Modi government for playing vote-bank politics and questioned why the government was only supporting a few backward classes by not doing away with the 50 per cent cap on reservations.
“Why is the Modi government not able to do away with the 50 per cent ceiling. Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya? Tod dijiye 50 per cent ceiling ko. Aapki mohabbat OBC se nahi, unke vote se hai (Break the 50 per cent ceiling. You don’t love OBCs, but their votes),” he said.
The AIMIM leader further referred to the reservations provided to the Muslim community in Telangana, which is not recognised by the central government. There is a 4 per cent quota for Muslims in the job and education sector in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
He demanded that the 1950 presidential order, which gives SCs reservation, should be made religion-neutral so that Muslims can also benefit from it. A number of MPs also, similarly, spoke about reservations for Christians.
“Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena all talk about the Maratha reservation but don’t forget Muslims have also been deprived but you don’t speak on that,” he said.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav also cited the 50 per cent cap on reservations and noted that it was indicative of the Modi government’s anti-reservation stance.
“For your convenience, you are getting a Central Vista constructed so that you can ensure it can accommodate more members comfortably. But at the same time, you want to accommodate all the OBCs, Dalits and minorities under 50 per cent. You are playing with reservation,” he said.
Yadav, too, pitched for a caste-based census and said that if the present government fails to do so, the Samajwadi Party will undertake the exercise once it comes to power after the upcoming polls in UP.
“You promised an OBC CM in the state before elections. But finally who was made a CM? Merely making a few OBC and SC ministers will not help the cause. Don’t forget you came to power because of the support from the backward class. You should also make the caste census data public,” said Yadav.
The INC, too, supported the bill but pointed out that several states want to increase the ceiling of reservation.
“You (BJP government) had a majority so you assumed you could do whatever you wished. But soon after the states started raising their voices you realised you had made a mistake. With assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand around the corner you decided to bring this bill. Though we support the bill, we also want the 50 per cent ceiling to be removed. This is a demand that has been made by Maharashtra too,” said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.