Mahesh Sarlashkar [email protected]
The BJP has taken this step as an accurate estimate of the future political losses due to the caste-wise census of OBCs. But regional parties can use the issue as a unit of power for anti-BJP politics.
Although the BJP has rejected the census on the basis of caste of backward classes in the country, the ruling parties at the Center are not ready to put that aside. The Janata Dal (United) led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik supported the Biju Janata Dal OBC census. Parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have put the BJP in trouble. The reservation and census of OBCs is not limited to Bihar or Odisha. Its effects are seen in various states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has temporarily resolved the OBC reservation issue after the Supreme Court approved the report submitted by the Madhya Pradesh government on OBCs. Mahavikas Aghadi from Maharashtra also needs to resolve the issue of OBC reservations in the state by submitting a comprehensive report on OBCs to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. While local body elections will be held in the state without OBC reservation, there is controversy over OBC reservations in Maharashtra. Accordingly, as NCP President Sharad Pawar has also demanded a caste-wise census of OBCs, the issue will intensify nationally in the near future.
In fact, the BJP brought up the issue of caste-wise census of OBCs. In 2018, the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the data would be collected by caste in the 2021 census. However, after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP backtracked on the issue and argued that conducting a caste-wise census was a complex task and that the information obtained from it could not be properly analyzed. While navigating through the OBC census, the BJP removed the right to decide which castes should be included in the OBC castes. While making reservations for the Maratha community in Maharashtra, it was stipulated that this caste should be included in the OBCs. Inclusion in OBCs means inclusion of the Maratha community in the socially and economically backward classes (SEBCs). The BJP exposed its mistake on the pretext of Maratha reservations and the central government amended the constitution and gave back to the states the right to determine the OBC caste. During the debate on the amendment in Parliament, BJP MP Sanghamitra Maurya directly demanded a caste-wise census of OBCs and it was picked up by other OBC caste parties. This includes mainly the Janata Dal (S) belonging to Nitish Kumar.
The Shiv Sena-BJP dominance in Maharashtra is similar to that in Bihar. In Bihar, despite Nitish Kumar being the chief minister, the Janata Dal has 43 seats in the assembly while the BJP has 74 seats. So far Nitish Kumar’s elder brother, Amit Shah is trying to get bigger after the 2020 Assembly elections. Nitish Kumar decided to support the BJP as an alternative in national politics to survive in Bihar, for which the OBC conducted a caste-wise census. The main opposition has also joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal to embarrass the BJP. An all-party meeting was convened on June 1 in this regard. Earlier, Nitish Kumar and Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly Tejaswi Yadav met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. Nitish Kumar is unlikely to give up on the issue of political gain in the OBC census.
In the last eight to ten years, the BJP has shifted from ‘mandals’ to ‘mandals’ and become OBC champions. The contribution of OBC voters behind the BJP rule in various states is immense. Aware of the importance of OBC voters, Prime Minister Modi has made a fuss over the inclusion of OBC ministers in the Union Cabinet reshuffle. In many states from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh, Scheduled Castes along with OBCs have shifted towards BJP. Even in the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party tried to undermine the BJP’s social engineering, but the ‘Bigaryadav, Bigarjatav’ castes could not break away from the BJP. OBC-Dalit voters favored the BJP, saying ‘higher castes are better than Yadavs’. In Maharashtra too, both the Congress and the NCP are fighting that their party is not limited to the Maratha community. That is why the Congress has handed over the responsibilities of the state presidency to Nana Patole, an aggressive leader from the OBC community. Sharad Pawar said that if the real beneficiaries want to avail the benefits of the schemes, there is no alternative but to conduct a census of OBCs by caste. So far the ‘OBC champion’ image has been to the BJP’s advantage, but regional parties are desperately trying to politicize the OBCs and tarnish the BJP’s image. For this, they demanded that a caste-wise census of OBCs be conducted.
The caste-wise census of OBCs is expected to be discussed in detail at various social media events in Delhi in the near future. Leaders of national parties along with various regional parties can also participate in these forums to review more comprehensively. If the event takes place during the monsoon sessions of Parliament, regional parties, mainly outside Parliament, are likely to have parallel discussions on other sensitive and broader political issues, including OBC issues. Leaders of regional parties may comment on various issues of OBCs, but Congress needs to clarify its position on OBCs at the national level. Congress has not taken a tough stance on issues like OBC reservations and caste-wise census. It is the regional party in the states that is blocking the BJP cavalry and the regional parties may be more aggressive in demanding a caste-wise census of OBCs. Until the Lok Sabha elections, important issues from the perspective of regional parties can be raised in different ways, in different forums, in Parliament and outside Parliament in Delhi.
Hindutva and OBC politics may continue in the BJP till the OBC census is taken but the BJP duel will start only if the number of OBCs by caste is known. Then it has to be decided whether the BJP will take the lead in Hindutva or do OBC politics. In the three Lok Sabha elections of 2009, 2014 and 2019, the BJP’s vote share, mainly the OBC vote share, increased. The BJP has attracted many caste groups in the Hindu community on the issue of Hindutva, including the OBCs. However, when the census is conducted caste-wise, the difference between the OBC castes who have reached the highest level of development benefits and the backward OBC castes comes to light. It will then come to light which OBCs have benefited from the central government welfare schemes. It is easy to present the political mathematics of OBCs as a group of voters, on the contrary, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a single caste in OBCs voters. In such a case, the issue of personal identity becomes more important and effective than Hindutva. Then different regional parties, organizations, institutions can be formed on the basis of caste. All these factors increase the ‘power of compromise’ in politics. This will make politics more complicated for the BJP. The BJP has made an accurate estimate on the OBC census about the future political losses due to the caste-wise OBC census. However, it seems that regional parties are using the issue as a power unit for anti-BJP politics.