The BJP has played the quota card in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh as the 2019 Lok Sabha polls approach.
While the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has cleared the proposal for 16% reservation for Marathas, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has plans to carve out sub-quotas for OBCs and SCs in Uttar Pradash.
Yogi’s plan is similar to what Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had done by creating separate categories, like “Mahadalit” among Scheduled Castes and “Ati Pichchda” among OBCs to trump the “OBC-Dalit” politics of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan in 2010. The strategy paid off well in the 2005 Assembly polls and in the subsequent elections.
However, the strategy backfired in some cases. Ahead of the 2015 Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, the Congress had backed reservations for the Marathas and Jats, but the BJP rode to power in both the states.
The inclusion of new castes has been a long-standing demand. The rising demand does not necessarily mean that all these communities are “backward”.
Last year, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in focus for a violent agitation by the Patidar community seeking reservation, though the community is relatively well to do as they own huge tracts of land and controls several businesses. Shakeel-uz-Zaman Ansari, former member of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), says demands driven by political considerations do come up from time to time for inclusion of certain financially and economically well-off classes as well so that they benefit from reservation. But earlier, the government used to abide by whatever decision NCBC used to take in this matter.
“Many such political moves earlier faced resistance at NCBC. Now the government has disbanded this panel and the new panel with constitutional status provides Parliament and thereby virtually the majority government of the day the final say in deciding over inclusions of new castes. So political inclusions will happen,” says Ansari.
In Maharashtra, the BJP has been at the receiving end of Scheduled Castes fury. Among Marathas, who comprise 33% of the state’s population and are decisive on 75 of the 288 Assembly seats, Sharad Pawar of the NCP has been the tallest leader.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Yadavs, the vote bank of the SP and Jatavs of Mayawati have been the main beneficiaries of quotas for OBCs and SC/STs.
By slicing their share, the BJP hopes to break the monolithic identity of OBCs and Scheduled Castes and subsequently make electoral gains. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2017 UP Assembly elections, a large number of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Scheduled Castes voted for the BJP, which has allies from some of these communities. But, the measures are fraught with the risk of an avalanche of similar demands from various groups.
Political analyst and a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation Rasheed Kidwai says: “The root cause of so many aspirations is the absence of empirical research data. Affirmative action should be based on very precise and accurate data. What is happening is that even groups who are not socially or economically backward are now seeking reservation, be it the Jats in Haryana, the Patidars in Gujarat or the Marathas in Maharashtra.”