Centre approves 27% OBC, 10% EWS quota in medical courses
The Union government on Thursday announced 27% reservation for other backward class (OBC) students and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS) in the all India quota of seats for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses, accepting a longstanding demand months before crucial elections in five states.
The decision is seen as an effort by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to consolidate its support among the OBCs and the poor ahead of upcoming state elections early next year, including in Uttar Pradesh, where OBC communities have significant electoral heft.
The reservation will be implemented from this academic session and benefit 5,500 students, said the Union health ministry. This includes 1,500 undergraduate OBC students and 550 EWS students, and 2,500 postgraduate OBC and 1,000 EWS candidates.
“Our government has taken a landmark decision for providing 27% reservation for OBCs and 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Section in the All India Quota Scheme for undergraduate and postgraduate medical/dental courses from the current academic year,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“This will immensely help thousands of our youth every year get better opportunities and create a new paradigm of social justice in our country,” he added.
Government medical seats in India are assigned under two streams: all-India quota (15% of undergraduate seats and 50% of postgraduate seats) and state quota. The all India quota, set up under the Supreme Court’s orders in 1986, is for candidates from across the country and the state quota largely caters to domiciled students.
The government implemented 27% OBC reservation in higher-educational institutions in 2006-07 but didn’t include medical and dental course seats under the all-India quota.
In recent years, OBC groups have claimed that the communities lost around 11,000 seats due to this lack of reservation and their mounting protests have pushed some state governments, such as Tamil Nadu, to approach the courts in this matter. Last year, the Madras high court ruled that there was no legal or constitutional impediment in extending OBC reservation to all-India quota seats in state-run institutions.
On Monday,the PM held a review meeting where he instructed the health ministry to expedite the process of clearing the decks for the decision.
On Wednesday, a group of OBC ministers and lawmakers representing the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) met PM Modi to push for allowing admissions from the all India quota.
The decision can significantly influence the electoral prospects of the BJP that is seeking re-election in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat next year. In Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, OBCs make up around 40% of the population.
Since coming to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP has made a concerted effort to woo OBCs, giving them more politics space and positions in authority. This helped the BJP pitch itself as an alternate to parties such as the Samajwadi Party or Rashtriya Janata Dal that counted OBCs as core supporters.
In recent months, the BJP renewed its outreach to make up for the alienation within the communities over lack of employment and economic development avenues. The most recent example is the Union cabinet expansion, where the party included three senior OBC leaders in the council of ministers. There are 27 other backward classes (OBC), 12 scheduled castes (SC) and eight scheduled tribes (ST) in the council of ministers, according to the data shared by the government.
In 2019, the UP government extended reservation to 17 important castes by including them in the OBC list.
“The BJP has shed its image as a party of the so-called upper castes. It is for this reason that OBC leaders were given prominence in states such as UP and Bihar and to some extent in Gujarat. A concerted attempt was also made to give the non-dominant OBC communities such as Kurmi, Kushwaha, Chaurasia and the Lodh more political space. The results of 2014 [general election] as well as the 2017 UP election showed that the outreach has worked and these communities have found an alternate in the BJP,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
Thursday’s decision is also expected to placate dominant castes who are concerned by the possible impact of sub-categorisation of OBC reservation on quotas for them in government jobs and educational institutions. Though the committee on sub-categorisation of OBC reservation has not yet submitted its final report, it has put forth that one-fourth of the total 27% reservation for OBCs has been cornered by about 10 caste groups.
“Overall there has been an increase in the party’s vote share from a large constituency among the OBCs and the Dalit voters because after the Mandal agitation the parties that spoke of championing social justice became family-oriented parties. With this decision the Modi government has met the long-pending aspirations of the OBCs, the EWSs and it will definitely stand to benefit,” said a second leader.
The 10% reservation for EWS category announced in 2019 was seen as an effort by the party to retain support from the upper castes who were miffed with the outreach towards the OBCs, Dalits and the extremely backward castes.
“The economically weaker sections in the general category, especially upper castes have been a core voter the party. When the government talks of sabka saath… it was imperative to ensure their welfare as well,” said a lawmaker from UP.
Political analyst Manisha Priyam said the decision will “undoubtedly help the BJP” and aid in placating the “anger or concerns that emerged among the communities post the covid pandemic”.
“The OBCs have not moved away from the BJP; but this will address whatever concerns they have had,” she said.
Sandeep Shastry, also a political analyst, however, said that the benefits of the decision will depend on how it pans out on the ground and if it withstands legal scrutiny.
Some Opposition leaders called the decision a token effort.
“Mere tokenism in the name of social justice can’t dupe aware OBCs! How the anti-OBC NDA govt is going to compensate the OBC students for the loss of seats they have suffered for all these years due to denial of their rightful reservation in the NEET exams?” asked RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, whose party counts the dominant OBC group of Yadavs as a key support base.