What the 10% reservation for EBCs in Gujarat says about Narendra Modi's politics

The Gujarat Government’s announcement of 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections among the upper castes may have been forced by the nine-month-old Patidar agitation, but it quietly dovetails into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics, which centres largely around the urban middle class, merges suitably with the thought process of the parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and spawns accurately from the political laboratory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The decision, whenever it sees light of the day or doesn’t at all, makes a statement, by Modi and his BJP, to India’s burgeoning middle class anger in the belief that its loaf has been sliced away by the Mandal brand of politics. Something the RSS leadership, palpably dominated by the higher castes, strongly believes and so wants — as its chief Mohan Bhagwat says — a review of the reservation system aimed at making it based on the economic backwardness instead of caste backwardness.

There cannot be a better place than Gujarat to begin with this experiment just like the successfully tested Hindutva attempt that began from the 1992 Ram Jamnabhoomi yatra from Somnath and continued right through the 2002 post-Godhra conflagration.

This caught the imagination of Gujarat’s huge and ever-burgeoning urban middle class. The evidence is not far to seek: Of the 72 State Assembly seats in the urban middle class regions in Gujarat, 69 are with the BJP, and three are with the Congress. All the eight city municipal corporations in the State, barring the tiny Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation, are controlled by the BJP. The situation is not post-Modi but has continued to be so ever since the BJP formed its first government in Gujarat in 1995, two-and-a-half years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Tracing this further back to the anti-reservation agitation of 1981 and 1985, led by the upper caste-dominated urbane BJP against the then Congress Government, there is a connect. The agitation was successfully converted into a protracted Hindu-Muslim confrontation that dismantled the lethal KHAM combination created by the Congress with Kshatriyas of the OBC denomination, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims. The spearhead here was the affluent Patel community. The BJP’s growth story in Gujarat thus began here.

 What the 10% reservation for EBCs in Gujarat says about Narendra Modis politics

Narendra Modi pays his respects to BR Ambedkar. Twitter @narendramodi

The 14 percent Patels, who formed the solid foundation for the BJP, have now come back to ask for their share of the spoils. Appeasing them would be rubbing the other sizeable upper urban middle castes the wrong way and not appeasing them would cost the BJP its Gujarat power, as was shown in the November-December elections to the local self-government bodies. This explains the 10 percent reservation to economically weaker sections among all the upper castes, whose annual income is Rs 6 lakh or less (Rs 50,000 per month).

A large portion of this would obviously be the urban middle class. “Those earning Rs 50,000 a month have their own family house and a car at the minimum. Reservations for this urban middle class would therefore strengthen the BJP’s Hindutva vote,” points out Gujarat’s veteran human rights lawyer Girish Patel.

“This also sits well with the high-caste dominated RSS leadership, which wants India’s reservation system to be completely overhauled to one that is based on economic criterion,” he says.

That this undermines the very purpose of reservations as envisaged by BR Ambedkar — to counter caste exploitation of a huge population of the country — is another matter. “The real essence of reservations was never to be a vehicle for job mobilisation and fight against poverty,” Patel points out. It is still another matter that even this has not been served with the creation of a strong creamy layer among the quota beneficiaries.

The ideal place, says political scientist and former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Ghanshyam Shah, to experiment with creation of the new reservation prototype is from the BJP’s time-tested political factory of Gujarat. “For Narendra Modi, the implementation of the quota system on economic criterion, if it at all becomes possible, is best tried in Gujarat since it rhymes perfectly with the Hindutva rhetoric. It also blends equally with Modi’s definition of development that has mainly to do with economic growth,” he says.

Having learnt it the hard way, the Congress in Gujarat quite understands the success potential of this experiment and has sought a 20 percent quota for the economically weaker sections — though this is merely to grab its own two-minutes in the television sound bite space.

“The BJP is trying to establish among the upper castes that the Congress has usurped them of their quota from the development pie to woo the Dalits and the Adivasis for political gains,” says Manish Doshi, the Congress spokesperson for Gujarat.

He argues: “From Gujarat, the Sangh Pariwar wants to implement its dangerous game plan to set off a country-wide debate in favour of quotas on economic basis, and thus create an opinion to put an end to the reservation system that had originally sought to end the hegemony of the upper castes over the society.”

(The writer is Editor, Development News Network, Gujarat)

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Updated Date: May 02, 2016 07:30:31 IST