Political parties are maintaining a studied silence on the issue of raising the OBC quota in government jobs as the issue had once triggered the long-drawn agitation that culminated with the creation of Uttarakhand in 2000.
The parties have been mum on raising the quota from 14% to 27% in line with a recommendation by the Other Backward Classes Commission. The panel first raised the issue six months ago and then brought it up again about a fortnight back.
The Uttarakhand government too has maintained silence on the issue.
The reason is not far to seek. The agitation that led to Uttarakhand's creation began in 1994 after an order issued by the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government of undivided Uttar Pradesh laid down 27% reservation for OBC candidates in government jobs in the erstwhile UP Hills.
The OBC population in the UP Hills at the time was hardly 2.5%, and many felt the 27% reservation was disproportionate to the negligible population. High caste youngsters feared most vacancies would be filled by OBC candidates from the plains of Uttar Pradesh, depriving them of jobs.
As a result, hundreds of high caste hill youngsters hit the streets, asking the Mulayam Singh Yadav government to withdraw its order. Yadav turned down the demand, adding fuel to the fire and turning the anti-reservation protests into a full-fledged agitation for a new state.
The Centre finally accepted the popular demand, resulting in the creation of Uttarakhand 14 years ago.
The transition saw Haridwar being merged into the hill state, which raised the OBC population in Uttarakhand from a mere 2.5% to 14%. The years that followed saw successive governments declaring several areas dominated by depressed castes as OBC areas.
"In Pithoragarh district alone, there are as many as 79 castes that have been notified as OBCs. Similarly, a sizeable area in Uttarkashi has been notified an OBC area," said Shamim Ahmad, vice chairman of the state OBC commission.
As the OBC population increased, the panel urged the government to hike the quota in government jobs from 14% to 27%.
"We have made the recommendation twice in view of the substantial increase in the state's OBC population but are yet to hear from the government," Ahmad said.
Surendra Kumar, media in-charge for chief minister Harish Rawat, did not specify the government's stand on the issue but said: "We will go by the well laid down constitutional provisions."
State Congress chief Kishore Upadhyay said: "In fact, this entire hill state should be notified as an area for OBCs so that development gets a boost. I think there is a Supreme Court ruling on that issue (OBC quota) which should be followed."
State BJP chief Tirath Singh Rawat said more areas of the state should be notified as OBC areas to boost development. Former Bahujan Samaj Party president Suraj Mal endorsed Upadhyay's view.
However, all the politicians preferred silence on the issue of raising the OBC quota in government jobs.