The American mathematical historian J.R. Newman says in his book The World of Mathematics that “as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality”. This could be a word of caution to those hailing the Bihar caste survey as the mathematical basis of social justice and predicting that it could bring the INDIA opposition bloc to power at the Centre.
Experts say that to counter the impact of the survey, the BJP could implement the Rohini Commission report and make subcategorisation of castes a reality. So, what is this report that some observers claim could be the BJP’s brahmastra?
History of categorisation
In 1963, the Supreme Court held in M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore that categorisation of backward and more backward castes was not warranted by Article 15 (4), but in its judgment in Indira Sawhney (1992), the court noted that there was no constitutional or legal bar to a State categorising communities into backward classes and more backward classes.
In February 2014, the second UPA government’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment asked the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) to examine subcategorisation within the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the Central list and give its recommendations and suggestions. The NCBC held several meetings and sought the views of State governments, and received inputs from nine States.
In June 2014, it wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the need for classification within OBCs, noting that the more advanced sections within the OBCs were availing themselves of most of the benefits of reservation, to the detriment of the depressed and downtrodden among the OBCs. It said: “An exercise needs to be undertaken for classification within the OBCs so that the better-off OBCs do not corner the rights meant for the more deserving categories of OBCs.”
On February 18, 2015, the NCBC passed a resolution to divide the sub-classifications within the OBCs into three categories, and took the Andhra Pradesh subcategorisation as the base point for this.
The Andhra Pradesh division
Pursuant to the Anantharaman Commission’s report of June 1970, the Backward Classes were divided in Andhra Pradesh into four groups: group A comprising aboriginal tribes, vimukta jatis, and nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes; group B comprising professional groups such as tappers, weavers, carpenters, ironsmiths, and goldsmiths; group C comprising SCs who had converted to Christianity, and their progeny; and group D made up of all other communities, classes, and sections.
In March 2015, Ashoka Mangotra, the then NCBC Member Secretary, submitted the report to the government and asked for an expert body, like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), to take up the project of subcategorisation. The ICSSR was supposed to set up an expert group of persons well acquainted with the profile of the Backward Classes in each State. The NCBC wanted ICSSR to undertake a countrywide exercise and prepare State-wise lists of OBCs and put them into categories like Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), More Backward Classes (MBCs), and Backward Classes (BCs). The NCBC said it would consider the ICSSR draft and finalise the Statewise list with suitable modifications. But nothing came of it.
In October 2017, the Modi government set up the Justice G. Rohini Commission to understand the impact of reservation among various subcastes and to suggest reforms in the existing quota structure. Chairperson Justice G. Rohini, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, submitted a voluminous report (of more than 1,000 pages) on August 31 this year, after obtaining 14 extensions.
The commission had three other members, namely, the Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, New Delhi; the Director of the Anthropological Survey of India, Kolkata (ex officio member); and the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (ex officio member).
It examined whether reservation and other benefits earmarked for OBCs were concentrated among certain dominant caste groups and if so to what extent, and how they could be redistributed fairly.
- The BJP is considering implementing the Rohini Commission report to address the impact of the Bihar caste survey and subcategorise castes within the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
- The Rohini Commission’s report, not yet published, reportedly revealed that a small percentage of OBCs received a significant share of reservation benefits, and it suggested dividing OBCs into subgroups with separate reservation percentages.
- Some political leaders are skeptical about the BJP’s willingness to implement the report, as it could antagonise dominant OBC castes, a key constituency for the party, and raise questions about its Hindu unity agenda.
Rohini commission report
The commission’s report has not yet been published, but media reports, quoting leaked information, said the panel had stumbled on some startling details: less than 1 per cent of the 2,633 OBCs in the Central list had cornered 50 per cent of the reservation benefits in admissions to Central educational institutions and jobs between 2014 and 2018; just 10 caste groups account for one-fourth of beneficiaries in the total OBC quota of 27 per cent; and nearly 1,000 castes have nil representation.
The commission supposedly revealed that OBCs were not a monolithic bloc and that different subcastes exist at different levels of development within the group and require separate focussed attention. The panel toyed with the idea of dividing the 2,633 OBC castes into four subgroupss, earmarking a separate percentage of reservation for each depending on their share in the population and considering their backwardness. The media reports also said that the panel suggested a fixed 8-10 per cent reservation for the 1,900-odd castes that have received less than 3 per cent of reservation in jobs and education.
However, JD(U) chief spokesperson K.C. Tyagi dismissed speculation that the BJP would implement the Rohini Commission report. Speaking to Frontline, he said: “The Modi government does not have the courage to antagonise dominant OBC castes, the major beneficiaries of the Mandal Commission, even as more than 1,000 backward castes are yet to benefit from reservation 30 years after the Mandal Commission report was implemented.”
Tyagi recalled that it was the socialist leader Karpoori Thakur who implemented reservation for EBCs after subcategorising OBCs—suggesting an 8 per cent quota for OBCs and 12 per cent for MBCs—back in 1977. He said: “Nitish Kumar then politically empowered the ati pichda (EBCs) with 20 per cent reservation in panchayat seats. The Modi government, with the Rohini Commission, wants to do diversion and diversification. It won’t work.”
Hukum Singh Committee
Even in Uttar Pradesh, the cradle of kamandal politics, the BJP had toyed with the idea of sub-categorising EBCs. In 2001, the then Chief Minister, Rajnath Singh, set up the Hukum Singh Committee to calculate how the beneficiaries were distributed among the OBCs. The commission concluded that Yadavs and Kurmis, who comprised 26 per cent of the population, held a 46 per cent share of reserved jobs. It also found that Jatavs got the maximum number of government jobs among all SCs. Before this, the Chhedi Lal Sethi Commission set up by Chief Minister Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna in 1977 had recommended 17 per cent reservation in government jobs for 41 of the most backward castes.
In Karnataka, Chief Minister Devaraj Urs formed the Havanur Commission in the 1970s, which excluded the powerful Lingayat community from reservation; in the 1980s, Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde appointed the Venkataswamy Commission, which excluded both the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas from reservation.
From available information, the Rohini Commission seems to have calculated a quota-within-quota formula without any exclusions. Although not excluded, politically dominant castes such as Yadavs, Kurmis, and Lodhas could come down the ladder of preference, and the BJP will have to walk a tightrope to address their grievances.
While implementing this formula will obviate the need to further increase the quota limit, it will make the BJP’s dominant-caste constituency restive, a section the party has assiduously wooed, including with the 10 per cent EWS reservation.
Ajay Gudavarthy, an associate professor of political science at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, said that the Modi government would have to consider how a further split among OBC castes would gel with its Hindu unity agenda. “How are they going to square off these two things? Implementing the Rohini report on subcategorisation might be a tough call for the government,” he told Frontline.
Gudavarthy also pointed out that government jobs account for 2 per cent of total jobs. “In effect, caste surveys are more about political churning than major policy implementation.” According to him, political churning will happen when a survey shows that 10-15 per cent of the population corners all the resources.
“Politically, what is to be seen is whether people will go back to OBC politics and if the exercise will check Hindu mobilisation. But people are now donning both mantles. They claim Dalit/OBC status for quotas and go with the larger Hindu identity. It is a misplaced notion that one will cancel out the other. The BJP is now doing both—backing reservation and integrating it within Hindutva. Even subcategorisation will only redistribute what little share there is for OBCs. Already, many States have subcategorised OBCs and Dalits for quotas.”
So far, nine States and one Union Territory have subcategorised OBCs: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Haryana, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Puducherry.
Whether the BJP implements the Rohini Commission recommendations or not, it is indisputable that Yadavisation has re-emerged in the Hindi belt.