Gujarat announced 10% reservation for the poor among upper castes on Friday, a move primarily aimed at placating the influential Patel community whose violent protests seeking jobs and college seats shook the state government last year.
But the decision, which could benefit upper caste families with annual income under Rs six lakh, is likely to run into legal hurdles as the new quota will be in addition to 49.5% reservation already given to disadvantaged groups such as OBCs, SCs and STs. Under Supreme Court guidelines, governments cannot provide reservation beyond 50% of their population.
Gujarat is the latest among a string of BJP-ruled states to reserve jobs and college quotas for upper caste communities, the party’s traditional support base that has become increasingly vocal in demanding affirmative action for itself. But most of these states have overshot the 50% mark, attracting legal challenges as well as the ire of other disadvantaged groups that feel short-changed.
Underscoring its political significance, Friday’s initial announcement came not from the Gujarat government but the BJP after a meeting of the party’s core committee attended by its national president Amit Shah. Later, chief minister Anandiben Patel announced the decision on Twitter.
The growing demand for job quotas underlines the challenge the country faces in creating employment for about a million people who enter the workforce every month. Earlier this week, a UN report warned that India could see a serious jobs crunch in the next 35 years.
The jobs shortage has also hit the Patidars, or Patels, a largely wealthy business community that has seen high inflation and unhelpful government policy take the edge off their enterprise. The Patels account for about 90-lakh of Gujarat’s six-crore people and wield wide political power. Their protests last year had left the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state with little room to manoeuvre, especially after the party suffered huge losses in panchayat polls.
The government said it will issue an ordinance on the new quotas on May 1, the state’s foundation day. The ordinance will come into effect from the beginning of next academic session in June.
Two groups leading the Patidar movement for OBC status since July last gave mixed response to the quota offer.
“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 the Patidar Ananmat Anadolan Samiti (PAAS), referring to the group’s leader arrested for rioting and arson last year.
On the other hand, the Sardar Patel Group chief, Lalji Patel, welcomed the move. “I will be able to give further reaction only after going through fine details,” he said.
The opposition Congress, which is trying to widen its appeal among the upper castes, was not impressed.
“The EBC quota should be 20% and not 10% and the upper income limit should be Rs 10 lakh per annum,” 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.”