Deepening of caste politics in the country – Deccan Herald

On August 18, the President of India gave his assent to the 127th Constitutional Amendment Bill, popularly known as the Other Backward Classes (OBC) Bill, which has now become the Constitution (One Hundred and Fifth Amendment) Act of 2021. The importance of this Act is the unanimous support it received from almost all political parties, national and regional, in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially tweeted that “the passage of the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021 in both Houses is a landmark moment for our nation. This Bill furthers social empowerment. It also reflects our Government’s commitment to ensuring dignity, opportunity and justice to the marginalised sections”.
The supporters of this Act argue that (i) it strengthens cooperative federalism by restoring the state governments’ right to have their own OBC list (ii) it is a step towards empowering the OBCs thereby facilitating inclusive governance. On the other side, the counter-arguments are (i) the timing of this Act is with an eye on electoral dividends in poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Punjab (ii) to gather political support to raise the reservation cap beyond 50% by revisiting the Indira Sawhney judgement of 1992. All the above claims and counterclaims seem to appear valid at least in theory. However, beneath these tall claims, there is a larger threat as the Act has the potential to further widen the gap within the OBCs, thereby deepening caste-based politics at the state and national levels.
It is imperative to recollect certain facts on how the necessity to pass this Act arose before analysing its dynamics and the larger threat it poses to the real political empowerment of OBCs. The Union government was forced to bring this Amendment Bill in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement on Maratha reservation and the rise in demand for reservation by socially influential communities like Marathas in Maharashtra, Patidars or Patels in Gujarat, Lingayats and Vokkaligas in Karnataka, Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, Jats in Rajasthan and Haryana and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. A common element among these demands is that all these communities are raising their voices for their inclusion in OBCs and a sub-quota within the OBCs. Some of these are pushing the vertical movement within the backward classes so as to increase the share of reservation within the OBCs. To illustrate the point, the Panchamasalis of the dominant Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in Karnataka are demanding reservations within the 2A category from the present 3B so as to increase the share of reservations from 5 to 15% in education and employment.
The rise in demand for reservation even by some socially influential communities exerts pressure on the elected governments, especially at the state level. This will considerably reduce the reservation space available for genuine communities who are facing caste-based discrimination and exclusion in political governance within the OBCs. With the enactment of the 105th Constitutional Amendment Act, the social divisions among the OBCs will increase, thereby deepening caste politics, especially at the state level. 
The reason for this is the lack of data on the OBCs at the state level. In an affidavit submitted before the top court, the Union government has clearly stated that there will not be the enumeration of OBCs in the Census of 2021 as a matter of conscious policy. It also stated that according to the Central list, there are 2,479 OBCs in the country whereas the corresponding number is 3,150 according to the state/UT list. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of the Maratha reservation and the enactment of the 127th Amendment Bill, most of the parliamentarians argued that this will restore the reservation benefits to the remaining 671 communities in different states/UTs. This stand is contradictory to the goal of social empowerment as envisioned by the Union government. Without such enumeration and scientific data, it will be a daunting task for the state governments to extend reservation benefits to those communities who are seeking it.
The deepening caste politics spawned by this kind of Act is evident by looking at Karnataka, the state which conducted a social and educational survey in 2015. The final report of the survey is yet to be submitted to the government and has been pending since April 2016. It needs to be seen how far the state government moves ahead in the face of stiff resistance both within and outside the party with this report. The government has argued that there are certain technical and legal issues (several petitions are pending in the high court) that have to be resolved before the dissemination of the survey report. This has already acquired considerable significance in state politics as is evident by the statements of former chief minister Siddaramaiah about relaunching AHINDA (Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits) movement across the state ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. 
In this scenario, the enactment of the 105th Amendment Act will not help the empowerment of OBCs, but rather further marginalises them in the socio-political domain. The government’s reluctance in conducting a caste census across the country is an indication of the use of OBCs for electoral gains in state politics. This reluctance at the state and Union government levels is due to the fear and anxiety among the dominant communities about the loss of social and political hegemony and power once such census operations reveal the real number of the creamy and non-creamy layer of OBCs. The Act is a kind of double-edged sword and has large political ramifications. This Amendment Act, by and large, pushes more and more dominant communities into the ambit of OBCs, thereby depriving the benefits to the genuine communities who are at the bottom of the socio-political order.
(The writer is PhD Fellow, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)
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