OBC sub-categorisation: Mandal 2.0 moment for Indian politics?

The proposed sub-categorisation may bring together a coalition of non-dominant castes.

opinion Updated: Aug 24, 2017 07:38 IST
DK Singh
DK Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sub-categorisation,Other Backward Classes,OBC
Members of the Jat community protest for expanded rights.(HT File Photo)

The Centre’s decision on Wednesday to set up a commission to examine the issue of sub-categorisation of the other backward classes (OBCs) could turn out to be the Mandal 2.0 moment in Indian politics, as a section of BJP leaders believe.

VP Singh government’s decision in 1990 to provide for 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs triggered a massive political churning, leading to the emergence of new backward caste regional satraps at the cost of the grand old Congress that saw its traditional votebank melting in the caste cauldron.

The proposed sub-categorisation of OBCs has the potential to trigger another round of political churning that could bring together a coalition of non-dominant castes to upstage these satraps whose politics revolves around some powerful castes.

Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav dominated the political landscape in the Hindi heartland, riding on the loyalty of Yadavs—estimated to constitute 14.5% of the population in Bihar and 9% in Uttar Pradesh—and supplementing this core voteback with a section of Muslims and an assortment of other groups. The OBCs constitute about 45% of the population in UP , but it’s Yadavs who called the shots, cornering most of the benefits accruing out of their political clout. In Rajasthan, Gujjars went on a war path, demanding their shift from the OBC to the ST category as they felt that Jats cornered most of the benefits of reservation.

It was this resentment among non-Yadav OBCs that the BJP successfully tapped to secure a resounding victory in the last UP elections. The saffron party assiduously built alliances with smaller outfits representing small caste groups—the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Apna Dal—and projected leaders such as Keshav Prasad Maurya to reach out to non-Yadav OBCs. What worked in UP could become the blueprint for the BJP in other states, too.

The Union Cabinet’s decision fits in well with this strategy of the BJP to woo non-dominant OBCs, which are numerically stronger and are resentful of a few dominant castes enjoying the fruits of power. It’s possible that it might alienate some dominant castes such as Jats in Rajasthan who remain loyal to the BJP but the ruling party is inclined to take its chances. If the gambit works, the BJP will have new constituencies to bank on, which would only get bolstered every time there are assertions by powerful groups such as Patidars in Gujarat and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh who are agitating for reservation.

In 1990, VP Singh’s Mandal gambit had exposed faultlines in the saffron party’s strategy to gain power by mobilising Hindus, as the caste factor became more pronounced, preventing consolidation along religious lines. Twenty-seven years hence, the BJP is seeking to turn the table by trying to corner the backward groups who have got most of the benefits of reservation at the cost of their less powerful brethren.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 07:38 IST