Everyone loves to woo the OBCs
Women's reservation Bill was passed, but debate reveals the demand for OBC sub-quotas, highlighting caste politics
The passing of the women’s reservation Bill in Parliament is a historic event. It promises to overhaul the composition of the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies, with a significantly large presence of women. Interestingly, the debates in the House revealed the re-emergence of an old fault line that had once disrupted the passage of a women’s quota Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. MPs from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress among others demanded sub-quotas for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Though OBCs do not constitute a voting monolith, parties have been sensitive to this large block of diverse castes, particularly after Mandal changed the country’s political landscape in the 1990s. Parties such as the SP, RJD, JD(U) and the DMK have been votaries of OBC empowerment through reservation. The Congress, however, is a late entrant into this group. The rise of the BJP since 2014 has seen religion trump caste in the political war of identities.
The demand for a caste Census is the latest push from the Mandal parties to corner the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. The argument for the OBC sub-quota in women’s reservation is part of the same narrative, which seeks to reassert the primacy of caste in political discourse. Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the women’s Bill is “incomplete” because of the absence of the OBC quota and Sonia Gandhi’s call to conduct a caste Census hint at the course of Opposition politics in the coming days. Home minister Amit Shah’s response in Parliament — the BJP gave the country a Prime Minister from the OBC community and 29% of party MPs are from that block — suggests that the ruling party is ready for the battle.