By Parivesh Mishra
Raipur: This could be an early warning signal for Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh in an election year. The Other Backward Classes in the state are dissatisfied with the BJP government and they have made it evident by a massive show of strength on the streets. The OBCs form a big chunk of votes in the state and if they form into a voting block, it could spell trouble for the chief minister seeking his third term in office.
A couple of days ago, 50,000 members of the OBCs staged a 100 km march from the nondescript Charama to the state capital, Raipur. The ostensible reason for the show of strength was their dissatisfaction with the reservation policy of the state government. However, the real message they wanted to convey was not a part of the 27-point charter of demands. It was: We are not happy. Give us a larger and effective share of power.
What should worry Raman Singh is that a significant number of participants in the rally had voted for the BJP in the last assembly elections. Though both the main parties in the state—Congress being the other—share the OBC votes equally, the BJP has reasons to worry more since it is the party in power. The OBCs do not appear to be ready to be content with a mere increase in the number of tickets in the coming election. They want a share in the real power that is confined to the chief minister himself and a handful of ministers belonging dominant castes.
At the Indoor Stadium in Raipur where the first 'OBC Adhikar Mahasabha' was held on 4 March, the protesters made the announcement of their grievances in a grand way. The first response of the government was to dispatch a group of OBC ministers to pacify the agitators on the way to Raipur. The ministers did not have much or anything new to offer and they failed to stop the rally midway.
With the assembly in session, the Congress leaders lost no time in declaring their support to the main demand of the OBCs to increase their quota of reservation to 27 per cent in educational institutions and government jobs. The chief minister was quick to invite the leaders of the OBCs to his residence for talks. This also failed and the agitators ended up declaring their intentions to intensify the movement in the coming weeks.
The government finds itself embroiled deeper in the controversy that is largely its own creation. It all started towards the end of 2010 when a cabinet sub-committee headed by the Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar—a tribal—recommended alteration in the quota system in reservations in the state. The demographic picture had changed drastically after the new state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000. The review had become necessary also because of the de-limitation of the political constituencies after the 2001 census.
Though Madhya Pradesh retained its number one position as the state with the highest number of STs in the country after the census, the density of the tribes in the carved out state of Chhattisgarh went up significantly. As against the 20.3 per cent of the total population in MP, the new state counted 31.8 percent as tribals. The percentage of the SCs in the total population, however, went down in Chhattisgarh (11.6 percent) as against the figure of 15.2 percent in Madhya Pradesh.
This fuelled demands by various tribal groups in Chhattisgarh for a hike in the reservation quota that had been inherited from the old state. The cabinet sub-committee was formed with this as the backdrop. And the recommendations only increased the list of the aggrieved.
The Chhattisgarh government on 7 December 2011 decided to revise the pattern of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. The quota for the STs was raised from 20 to 32 percent and that for the SCs was brought down from 16 to 12 percent. The OBC quota was left untouched at 14 percent.
This gave reason to SCs to come to the street first. It was equally resented by the OBCs too who, like in most other parts of the country, are generally believed to make up almost 50 percent of the state’s population. Though it is early to predict the political fallout of this movement, the BJP being the ruling party is at disadvantage. As for the credentials as a champion of their cause the Congress has history on its side – thanks to Arjun Singh.
Earlier, as a part of the undivided Madhya Pradesh, the OBCs in the state were first in the country to get the recognition as an organised group in the society. The Backward Classes Commission, the first of its kind in the country, was established in June 1980 by Arjun Singh immediately after he took over as the chief minister for the first time. At that time it was largely seen as yet another shrewd move by the wily Thakur to undermine the influence of the Shukla brothers—Shyama Charan and Vidya Charan—in the area. The commission remembered generally as Mahajan Commission visited various parts of the state and prepared a list of castes to be included under the list of OBCs. Later, in 1993 a five-member Madhya Pradesh Commission for Backward Classes replaced Mahajan commission which was not a statutory body.
The state government, while revising the percentage in December 2011, took quotas up to 58 percent and left OBCs displeased. The government’s decision, which provided for 58 percent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, was duly challenged in the Chhattisgarh High Court citing the Supreme Court order that restricts total reservation to 50 percent. The court vacated its stay on the implementation of this policy in July 2012. It, however, ruled that the appointments made by the government on the basis of the new policy, would be subject to the court’s final verdict.
And thus hangs the sword of uncertainty over a policy that, till its fate is decided by the court, is sure to fuel the politics of demands and unrest in the state.