File photo of Narendra Modi. Photograph:( Reuters )
The move goes beyond castes and religions and includes the most egalitarian and welfarist idiom of economic backwardness, by replacing class instead of caste.
Reservation has always been a game changer in Indian politics. The BJP was the only political party, which never tried to play it to its advantage. Thus far.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi by amending the Constitution to reserve ten per cent in education and jobs for the economically weaker sections has redefined reservation politics and introduced new poll chemistry that will influence the election outcome in 2019 in a big way.
For the first time, the party has a consolidated and committed vote bank. This segment, though largely inclined towards the BJP, has often been successfully weaned away by the Congress and regional outfits like the BSP, AIADMK, TRS, CPM, Trinamul, BJD and TDP.
The new Modi initiative has made it impossible for non-BJP parties to poach on this segment. Like demonetisation and the SC-ST Act 2018, it has made Modi the messiah of the poor, reinforcing the Prime Minister’s agenda of sab ka saath sab ka vikas.
Sadly, general apathy for the forward category people and the antipathy of a major section of intelligentsia and political class to the BJP, has prompted the media to underplay the move.
Opposition parties like the Congress, CPM, Samajwadi Party and BSP were so stunned that they grudgingly supported the Bill. It was passed within 48 hours of its introduction and made history when it became an Act, with presidential assent, within four days.
For the so-called general category, not covered under the 50 per cent reservation like the SC, ST and OBC, a long-standing demand had been fulfilled.
Supreme Court rulings had made it difficult for states and parties to think beyond 50 per cent. Hence, most reservation politics were working models tinkering with the 50 benchmark and including new categories within the existing quota.
The Congress, TDP and TRS repeatedly tried to tinker with OBC reservation by including the converted SC, ST, Christians and Muslims, Jats and Marathas in the SC, ST and OBC quota.
They also had tried to give five and seven per cent reservation for Muslims beyond the fifty per cent ceiling. These were struck down by courts.
So far only Tamil Nadu and Kerala have managed to cross the fifty per cent ceiling to accommodate the minorities.
Why the Modi amendment becomes a game changer is because it is going to alter the political narrative. It is bold because it has amended the Constitution and changed the ceiling itself.
It is innovative because it goes beyond castes and religions and includes the most egalitarian and welfarist idiom of economic backwardness, by replacing class instead of caste.
For the first time in India, the so-called upper castes consisting of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Banias, Kayasth, Jat, Marathas and Patels will get reservation and matter as a major political factor.
In states like in Gujarat, Kshatriyas are included in the OBC category. The Modi initiative will take the fizz out of the Jat, Maratha and Patel reservation politics, which Ajit Singh in UP and Hardik Patel in Gujarat were playing.
In North Indian states like UP, Himachal, Uttarakhand, MP, Rajasthan, Haryana and Chhattisgarh, the upper caste population is over 30 per cent and this is bound to gravitate towards the BJP.
So far BJP has been accused of playing into SC/ST and OBC politics because of their exaggerated numerical predominance. Empirical studies have shown that these numbers are often manipulated and exaggerated in favour of minorities, the OBC and the SC/ST.
In the recent state polls in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the BJP lost because of wide perceptional resentment among the upper castes. In UP, for instance, in the context of the SP-BSP tie-up, the BJP is likely to benefit from a consolidation of its traditional base.
The new reservation policy will also help the BJP in a big way in the South. Here reservations have long been a very sensitive issue and the upper class found themselves in a hopeless condition.
Modi’s reformist move will give them fresh hope. For instance, in Kerala, the Nair community, which constitute 18 per cent of the population, has been actively campaigning for economic reservation for over six decades.
The Nair Service Society (NSS), which runs hundreds of educational institutions, have made representations to successive governments for this.
The UPA in 2004 had set up the Sinhu Committee to study the feasibility of reservations for Nairs. The Commission had submitted its report in 2009, but the UPA did not do anything further.
Now the NSS general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair has written a letter profusely thanking the Prime Minister for “doing what nobody else had shown the courage”.
“When the Sinhu Commission submitted their report to the former UPA Government, we had expected favourable action from them. But they had put aside that report. After that, we had submitted our prayers and resolutions for your favourable consideration also. We reiterate our sincere and heartfelt gratitude for making the economic reservation of the forward community a reality with your strong determination”, wrote the NSS leader.
NSS, which follows a policy of equi-distance between all parties, though traditionally a majority of Nairs and upper castes have been LDF supporters, is now inching towards the BJP.
In about ten Lok Sabha seats in Kerala, the NSS holds the key. The NSS, which is at the forefront of the agitation against the Supreme Court order on Sabarimala Temple tradition, has been moving away from the LDF, whose stance has angered the Hindu community.
Similarly, Lingayats in Karnataka, Reddys and Kammas in Andhra and Telangana and upper castes in Tamil Nadu who were in the AIADMK camp, will take a second look at the BJP after this.
(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)