The Government will study the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) findings that the OBC population has increased by over five per cent between 1999 and 2005 — though it is 11 per cent less than the Mandal Commission’s estimation of 52 per cent — before submitting its view in Supreme Court on the reservation issue.
Caught in a controversy over the methodology it adopted to calculate the OBC population, the NSSO will shortly make a presentation to the Social Welfare Ministry and Planning Commission , which are examining its report.
“The sample size (1.25 lakh households) is too small to reach a population figure,” a ministry official said. But an NSSO functionary contested this, claiming the survey was conducted on “proven scientific” lines. “Our figures on most counts have always been very close to Census figures,” he said. Unlike the Census, which cross-verifies claims, the NSSO goes by voluntary declaration of families in the sample area. “If somebody tells us he is an SC or OBC, we believe the person,” an NSSO official said.
According to Professor Yogendra Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru Univesity, the methodology can lead to some error, as in the wake of reservation for OBCs, many respondents may have enlisted themselves in this category. The inclusion of caste groups like Jats by the government has also inflated figures — a point also made by political scientist C.P. Bhambri, who saw communities joining the OBC bandwagon to project themselves as a “political category”.
But the NSSO's findings are unlikely to change the contours of the ongoing debate about creamy layer and OBC quota in central educational institutions.
“The OBCs are like Trishanku; neither the Constitution nor society protects them… They have been deprived of equal opportunities,” said B.K. Hari Prasad, an OBC leader and Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha. He says that in villages, OBCs are not allowed to enter temples though they may follow the rituals of caste Hindus.
The pro-quota lobby is not deterred by the NSSO findings that the purchasing power of OBCs is almost at par with forward castes in rural areas. This is because, as Bhambri said, OBCs have in recent years captured political and economic power. “What they presently lack is bureaucratic power. They hope to get this through education,” he said, looking at the OBC debate through the prism of power politics. He also underlined the need to to “demystify” the findings regarding OBCs’ economic status in rural areas
Comprising a broad spectrum of over 4,000 castes that lie between Dalits and upper castes, only a small upper crust of OBCs has gained from land reforms. To allow the marginalized sections to benefit from affirmative action, Singh wants the creamy layer out of the quota regime. But neither sociologist Dipankar Gupta nor Bhambri see the most backwards among OBCs setting up a separate category. “They don’t have a leader. They are chained to the OBCs due to the power game based on identity politics,” they said.
Social scientist Pushpesh Pant believes OBCs do not require reservation. “They do not suffer from social, economic or educational discrimination. Unlike Dalits, who were not allowed entry into schools, OBCs chose not to educate themselves.”