The decision of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to issue caste certificates to people belonging to the 17 Other Backward Classes (OBCs) that were brought under Scheduled Castes (SCs) list by the previous Samajwadi Party government in 2017, and is currently in the High Court, is likely to have a far reaching impact in the 2022 Assembly elections in the state.
Of these 17 castes, as many as 13 — Kashyap, Kahar, Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Dheevar, Bind, Dheemar, Batham, Turha, Godia, Manjhi, and Machua — belong to fishermen or boatmen community and have a considerable influence in about 100 of the 403 Assembly constituencies in the state, including 60 of the 80 SC reserved seats. Most of these Assembly seats fall along the banks of Ganga and Yamuna rivers, and areas adjoining Gorakhpur.
An attempt to woo the fishermen community was made by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year through her Ganga yatra. She took a boat ride from Prayagraj to Varanasi and sat with the community representatives in Varanasi to discuss their issues. However, her bid to win over the community, which has been a traditional Congress voters, made no impact with the Congress decimated to just only one seat in the polls.
But the BJP did not waste time. Within a month after the election results, the ruling party made a bid to woo the community by ordering the district administration to issue caste certificates to people belonging to the 17 OBCs. With the caste certificates, people belonging to the 17 castes would not only be able to apply for jobs under the 22 per cent SC reservation, but they would also become eligible to contest in the 80 reserved SC Assembly constituencies in the state. However, all these are linked to the final outcome of the writ petition which is pending in the Allahabad High Court.
Sources in the BJP said that the caste certificate move was well thought by the party after the last year’s Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypoll result in which the Samajwadi Party in alliance with NISHAD Party and BSP sprung a major surprise by winning the traditional BJP seat, from where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had won for consecutive five times.
After its bypoll loss in its stronghold, the BJP weaned away NISHAD Party from SP-BSP alliance; and to everyone’s surprise, NISHAD Party joined hands with the BJP just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
During the Lok Sabha campaigning, BJP president Amit Shah promised a 80-ft statue of Nishadraj, regarded as “king of fishermen”, at Sringverpur near Allahabad. Sources said that the UP government will soon start working on the statue promise as well.
Welcoming the BJP government’s decision, Sanjay Nishad, chief of NISHAD Party, said that the 13 sub-castes have 12 per cent vote share in the state but have had very little political say as the community is largely under-developed and lacks representation. “While the UP government has given instructions to implement the court directions, we would pursue it to be cleared from the Parliament as well,” said Nishad, whose son Praveen is now BJP MP from Sant Kabir Nagar, adjoining Gorakhpur.
Nishad is expected to meet Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Friday to not just thank him for taking the decision, but also push for speedy implementation of the decision.
“We got to know that the order is reaching the districts by post and is being sent through e-mail also as there was some problem with the NIC server in the state. During a meeting with the Chief Minister, I would press for its quick implementation as well,” Sanjay Nishad told The Indian Express.
Also read | UP government’s caste certificates for 17 OBCs reopens SC list debate, Mayawati says illegal
Checkmated, the Congress has called the BJP government’s move a mere “eyewash”. Though, the party does not commit to their inclusion in the SC list, it instead talks about other benefits to the community like giving lease of ponds, rights over fishes, sand among others.
“These are all eyewash as if they actually wanted to do something for this community then they would have directly placed it in the Assembly and would have taken it to Parliament. But all they want is create a buzz, and nothing else. Moreover, during our Lok Sabha poll campaign, fishermen and boatmen had raised issues of right to lease ponds, right over fishes and sand along the river, which would actually make them more independent. But the BJP government is mute on them,” said Congress Legislature Party leader Ajay Kumar Lallu, who had traveled along with Priyanka Gandhi during her Ganga yatra on boat, and has been given the responsibility to rebuild the party cadre in east UP.
Meanwhile, the implementation of June 24 UP government’s order asking district magistrates and divisional commissioners to start issuing caste certificates to people belonging to 17 OBCs is still to begin. Some said that they are yet to receive the order and further instructions from the government to implement it. “We are yet to receive official instructions about the order,” said Sanjay Singh, Additional District Magistrate, Hardoi district, neighbouring Lucknow.