Jharkhand Assembly Election 2019: Quota for backward classes a key election plank in ‘tribal state’
Increasing reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the other backward classes (OBC) in the state has become one of the biggest poll issues in Jharkhand, which primarily carries the tag of being a ‘tribal state’. Tribals make around 26% of the 3.25 crore state population as per the 2011 census. Voting in the first phase of assembly election is taking place in 13 constituencies on Thursday.
All major parties, including the BJP, JMM, Congress, AJSU Party, JVM (P), have promised to increase OBC reservation in the state, which currently stands at 14%.
The reservation to scheduled categories in Jharkhand is currently capped at 50%, besides the recently-implemented 10% quota to the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) in the general category. While the Scheduled Tribes (ST) get 26% quota, Scheduled Castes (SCs) get 10% and OBCs have 14% reservation.
While the BJP has promised to increase reservation to the OBC in proportion to their population and within the ambit of the constitutional provisions, other major players including the JMM, Congress, JVM (P) and Ajsu Party have promised to increase OBC reservation to 27%.
Besides the poll manifesto, the issue was discussed by star campaigners across parties without fail in election rallies, thus making it a major element in the larger political narrative in this election.
“The Congress fooled backward classes for 70 years despite being in power. But soon after Modi ji came to power, he gave constitutional status to the backward class commission. Once we come back to power in Jharkhand, we will also be increasing reservation to the OBC in a manner so that maximum youth get benefitted of it. It will part of our manifesto,” BJP president Amit Shah had said in his first rally for the assembly election in the state at Manika. He repeated the issue in his other rallies.
Addressing reporters in Ranchi, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, however, questioned the commitment of the BJP over the issue.
“They have made a vague promise in their manifesto. We have promised to increase OBC reservation to 27% and we would implement it here as we did it in Chhattisgarh,” he said.
Increasing OBC reservation was major poll promise of the Congress in neighbouring Chhattisgarh in 2018, when it wrested power from the BJP in the state after 15 years. The Baghel government decision to increase OBC reservation to 27% has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Anil Sinha, a former advocate general and member of the BJP manifesto Committee said their promise is a workable one. “It has been a long pending demand. And we would increase OBC reservation as we have promised in our manifesto to implement it in accordance to law,” he added.
Earlier this year, the state government has directed all district administration to get census of OBC population done to have an exact assessment of the count. BJP leaders underline that its government actions are self-explanatory that they have done their homework and are working seriously to implement it with an eye on clearing the judicial scrutiny.
Political observers see the issue getting primacy in the poll narrative as ‘assertion’ of the OBC class for their long pending demand.
“Mandal Commission had recommended 27% reservation for the OBC but state governments in states such as Jharkhand had tweaked it to suit the local demography in accordance with the 50% cap set by the Supreme Court. However, that has now been breached with the 10% reservation for EWS in general category,” said KL Kundan, who teaches political science at Ranchi University.
“Though hike in OBC reservation is long-pending demand, it has gained centre stage as the OBC leadership is now in a dominant position across the spectrum. Besides their huge population which is important politically, people in this category are now also better equipped in terms of education and resource besides being politically well placed to assert their demand,” he added.
The Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), a party considered of the tribals, is also flagging up the issue in a big way. JMM leaders also promise to amend the domicile policy so that the ‘moolvasis’ (original inhabitants) among the OBCs get the real benefits of the decision.
Unlike in the past, how come OBC reservation became a major issue for the JMM?
JMM principal general secretary Supriyo Bhhattacharya said, “We have always fought for the rights of tribals as well as the moolvasis. We are taking this up because of the experience that we gained over the past five years of the Raghuabr Das regime. Most of the vacancies filled up by this government were grabbed by people from outside the state. It’s a given that the caste groups like Kudmis, Koeris, Ahirs, Telis in other states are better placed in terms of social, education and economic status.”
“We will amend the domicile and the employment policy to suit the moolvasis,” he added.
However, implementation of this promise in the state could face another challenge as there has been a parallel demand from Kurmis, who make a big chunk of the OBC category in Jharkhand, of giving them scheduled tribe (ST) status.
“The Kurmis, who are also called Kudmis, of Jharkhand are different from those in other states. Before independence we had ST status. We want that back. And we would continue with our demand till we achieve it,” said Sheetal Ohdar, convener of the ‘Kurmi/Kudmi Vikash Morcha’.
Kurmi/Kudmi Vikash Morcha, besides other such pressure groups, has been lobbying for the demand and has repeatedly been holding protests and demonstration on the issue.
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