A churn in the caste cauldron

  • Recent developments show the centrality of the representation of OBCs in electoral battles
Seen in the backdrop of the growing rumblings of the caste census and the impending churn over the push to subclassify the OBC grouping, this is a significant development(HT File Photo/Arabinda Mahapatra) PREMIUM
Seen in the backdrop of the growing rumblings of the caste census and the impending churn over the push to subclassify the OBC grouping, this is a significant development(HT File Photo/Arabinda Mahapatra)
Published on Jan 02, 2022 08:37 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

Last week, the Centre told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that it should hold off on scrapping reservations for other backward classes (OBC) in local body polls in Madhya Pradesh. This came after the top court nullified similar reservations in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and its ruling prompted the Odisha High Court to ask the state government to denotify seats earmarked for backward communities in its local body elections.

Seen in the backdrop of the growing rumblings of the caste census and the impending churn over the push to subclassify the OBC grouping, this is a significant development, and makes it clear that political representation for OBCs and some dominant communities will be the new battleground in the shifting sands of Indian electoral politics. The Centre’s framing in its affidavit made it clear. The government told the court that implementing the Supreme Court’s order will be a grave miscarriage of justice and deprive OBCs of their rightful share. The affidavit called it a question of political representation and said denying it will be a violation of the constitutional mandate. Though there has been no formal enumeration of the communities since Independence, government and unofficial estimates say OBCs easily form more than 50% of the country. It is no wonder, then, that their support is hotly contested by political parties, and their impact on elections and policy is only set to grow.

The developments make three things clear. One, the decision to extend reservations in local body elections to OBCs falls in line with the trend of using reservations as an instrument to alleviate socio-economic problems. The phenomenon of dominant communities — Jats, Gujjars, Patels, Marathas, among others — demanding quotas seems here to stay. Two, given the apex court’s straightforward reasoning in deciding cases involving caste-based quotas — the judges ruled that quantifiable data gathered by an independent commission will be necessary — it is likely that political compulsions will clash with judicial dictum in the future as well. And three, with the government and Opposition formations vying for the support of OBCs, expect more fireworks around the demand of a caste census — which will formally count OBCs and likely lead to a realignment in caste power structures — and the report of the central commission looking into subclassifying OBCs that is likely to see resistance from dominant communities. The churn in India’s caste cauldron appears to be just beginning.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022