Counting on quota

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST

Rajnath Singh's decision on 'quota within quota' gives a new twist to the politics of reservation in Uttar Pradesh.

UTTAR Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh has his political rivals, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party vice-president Mayawati, tied up in knots over his decision to give 'quota within quota' to the most backward castes among both the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Dalits. The Social Justice Committee that Rajnath Singh has constituted for this purpose, following the announcement of the decision on June 28, reflects the clever social engineering formula he appears to be working on.

The committee is headed by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hukum Singh, a member of the Gujjar caste, one of the more backward and ignored among OBCs, and co-chaired by Health and Family Affairs Minister Ramapati Shastri, a Dhobi by caste, again a backward caste among Dalits. It has five other members and it is to submit its report by August 15 when the Chief Minister will announce its implementation.

The arithmetic behind the constitution of the committee is fairly simple: 80 per cent of the Dalits and the OBCs, who constitute the most backward sections, have been deprived of the benefits of reservation, and owing to the lack of influential leaders among them they are not in a position to flex their muscle.

The terms of reference of the committee are: take a comprehensive look at the programmes, facilities and systems available for the benefit of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and backward classes, suggest changes in reservation according to the State's population after Uttaranchal State was created, take a look at the status of recruitment against the quota available for these categories, find out the representation of different castes under the reservation benefits already granted, and suggest measures to improve the lot of these categories, especially sections that have been deprived of benefits so far.

Under the 15 per cent reservation that is available for Dalits in the State, a major chunk of the benefits has gone to the Jatavs (Chamars) and the Pasis while castes like the Valmikis, the Dhobis, and the Khatiks have not benefited. Both the Pasis and the Jatavs are politically more influential and monetarily more prosperous than the other castes among Dalits. Besides, owing to the political patronage that leaders like Mayawati, who belongs to the Jatav caste and Ram Vilas Paswan, who is a Pasi, have been giving them, these castes have come to be more assertive than the rest of their clan.

Similarly, among the OBCs, the major chunk of the 27 per cent reservation benefit has been cornered by castes like the Yadavs, the Kurmis, the Mauryas and the Lodhs though they constitute only 14 per cent of the total 52 per cent OBC population in the state. Taken together, the members of the most backward castes among the Dalits and the OBCs far outnumber those of the prosperous castes among them. And in a situation where there seems to be nobody to speak up for them, they can be wooed easily.

According to the BJP's calculation, the prosperous castes among the OBCs and the Dalits have well-defined loyalties. So even if they turned against the BJP it would not cost the party much in terms of votes. The Yadavs, for example, are solidly behind Mulayam Singh Yadav, while Jatavs are massed behind Mayawati. The Pasis, too, to some extent are with Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. The Kurmis, barring a minuscule section which is with the BSP or the BJP, have been voting substantially for Sone Lal Patel of the Apna Dal. The Lodhs are apparently united behind former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, who floated the Rashtriya Kranti Party after his expulsion from the BJP. The Jats, who have also been included in the list of OBCs in Uttar Pradesh, now have their own leader, Ajit Singh. Hence the BJP believes that the new reservation formula, if implemented, will result in more gains than losses for it.

The most backward castes among the OBCs account for roughly 38 per cent of the OBC population in the State and have no well-defined party loyalty yet. This fact has put both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in a spot. They cannot openly oppose the move because it might alienate any supporters they have had among these sections. They cannot support it either, because it might antagonise their hard-core loyalists, the Yadavs and the Jatavs. This explains the reluctant about-turn of both leaders on the setting up of the committee. They lashed out at Rajnath Singh the very next day, accusing him of disrupting social harmony by dividing the Dalits and the OBCs, but later grudgingly supported the move. While Mayawati threatened a State-wide agitation against the implementation of the committee report, Mulayam Singh accused Rajnath Singh of conspiring against the Yadavs and the Kurmis. "Rajnath Singh should better give poison to Yadavs and Kurmis," he was quoted as saying by several Hindi newspapers in Lucknow.

But when contacted by Frontline, Mayawati said she was all for the concept of 'quota within quota'. She demanded reservation for even the poor among the upper castes, saying she had mooted such an idea when she was the Chief Minister. Mulayam Singh Yadav, caught between the devil and the deep sea as it were, only mumbled that he was all for reservation according to the population size. "With this yardstick, I advocate 54 per cent reservation for OBCs," he said.

Rajnath Singh has obviously done his homework. He has harked back to the previous committee reports in this connection: the Kaka Kalelkar Report (September 1956) which advocated separate reservation for 837 most backward castes, and the Chhedi Lal Saathi Report (May 1977), which recommended 29.5 per cent reservation for OBCs, including a separate quota for the most backward castes. The Kalelkar Report, however, could not even be discussed in Parliament and the government declared in 1961 that no all-India categorisation of castes as 'most backward castes' can be done. Such categorisation should be done by the respective States, the government stated.

The Saathi Committee Report, too, did not see the light of day since it did not suit the political requirements of the party in power then, the Congress, whose core constituency consisted of Dalits, Muslims and the upper castes. The Kalelkar Committee had recommended 17 per cent reservation for the most backward castes, which included landless labourers, domestic workers and unskilled labourers, 10 per cent for the farming community among the OBCs and 2.5 per cent for backward Muslims.

In raking up the issue of 'quota within quota', Rajnath Singh has not only fallen back on these reports but cited instances of similar categorisation existing in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar. In Andhra Pradesh, the government constituted a committee headed by Manohar Prasad in April 1968 to identify backward castes. This committee submitted its report in June 1970, recommending 30 per cent reservation for backward castes. The committee identified four segments among the OBCs and recommended separate quota for them: seven per cent for the Scheduled Tribes and members of the gypsy community, 13 per cent for professional groups among backward castes, one per cent for converted Harijans, 9 per cent for the rest. The government accepted 25 per cent reservation for the castes recommended, reducing the quota for professional groups to 10 per cent and 7 per cent for the rest.

In Karnataka, based on the recommendations of the L.G. Havanur Committee Report (August 1972), there exists 33 per cent reservation wherein 18 per cent is for backward communities, 10 per cent for backward castes, and 5 per cent for backward tribes. In Bihar, too, under the Karpoori Thakur formula, there is 15 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes, 1 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes, 13 per cent for the OBCs, 18 per cent for the Most Backward Castes and 3 per cent for backward caste women.

Rajnath Singh, while announcing the appointment of the Social Justice Committee, hinted that all these reservation patterns would be kept in mind when the new reservation formula was drawn up.

There is no doubt that caste-based politics, which was apparently slipping out of the BJP's hands, has suddenly acquired a curious angle. It is too early to say, but it has the potential to tilt the vote bank of 38 per cent MBCs in the State towards the BJP, to the detriment of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Once again, the enigma of Mandal is back in Uttar Pradesh politics.

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