The Gujarat government announced on Friday 10% reservation for the economically backward among upper castes, a move apparently aimed at placating the influential Patidars who launched a violent agitation last year seeking quota benefits.
The decision, taken at a meeting of the BJP core committee headed by party president Amit Shah in Gandhinagar, will benefit all upper caste families with annual income less than Rs six lakh.
The Patidar agitation has left the ruling BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state with little room to manoeuvre, especially after the party suffered huge losses in last year’s panchayat polls.
However, the Anandiben Patel government’s decision is likely to run into a legal hurdle as the new quota will be in addition to the existing 49% reservation for OBCs, SCs and STs.
Under guidelines set by the Supreme Court, a state cannot provide reservation beyond 50% of its population.
“We (the BJP and Gujarat government) will sincerely take up any legal battle, if required… even to the high court and the Supreme Court,” said state BJP chief Vijay Rupani.
He added that the government will issue an ordinance on May 1, the foundation day of the state. The ordinance will come into effect from the beginning of next academic session in June.
The two groups leading the Patidar movement for OBC status since July last year gave a mixed response. Out of Gujarat’s six-crore population, the Patidars constitute around 90 lakh.
“There cannot be any compromise until the release of Hardik Patel from jail. Besides, this seems nothing but a lollipop,” said Dharmik Malaviya, convener of Hardik-led Patidar Ananmat Anadolan Samiti (PAAS).
On the other hand, Sardar Patel Group chief Lalji Patel welcomed the move. “We welcome the decision that is in favour of Patidars. I will be able to give further reaction only after going through fine details,” he said.
The opposition Congress was not impressed.
“The EBC quota should be 20% and not 10% and the upper income limit should be Rs 10 lakh per annum. Congress had been demanding EBC reservation from the very beginning of the Patidar agitation,” said Congress legislative party leader Shankersinh Vaghela.
“The BJP suffered heavy loss in the local body elections. The state will go to polls next year. The decision shows that the BJP was forced to bend,” he added.
OBC Ekta Manch convener Alpesh Thakor, who led the agitation against inclusion of Patidars into OBC, said, “We welcome the decision, but this is a political announcement. Both the Congress and the BJP should be ready to face the consequences of playing politics of reservation. The upper limit for income should have been limited to Rs 3 lakh per annum’’.
Chief minister Anandiben Patel has maintained that Mukhyamantri Swalamban Yojana, a scholarship scheme for EBC students announced in October 2015 to pacify agitators, would continue.