Updated: April 29, 2016 9:46:24 pm
The 10 per cent quota for Economically Backward Classes (EBC) announced on Friday by the state government is a first for a prosperous state like Gujarat where the political verdict over the last two decades has been powered by the dominant agrarian community– the Patidars.
That it is a political gamble and smacks of tokenism by the BJP to woo the Patidars who have been agitating for inclusion as OBCs, is obvious from the fact that the decision was taken by the core group of the BJP led by national president Amit Shah along with Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and Gujarat BJP chief and cabinet minister Vijay Rupani.
Legally, there will be problems given the Supreme Court’s 50 per cent cap on reservation. But Rupani’s statement that the government is willing to fight right upto the apex court for the sake of the EBC quota, is already a disclaimer of sorts.
Currently in Gujarat, Other Backward Castes (OBCs) have a 27 per cent quota, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) quota is seven per cent and Scheduled Tribes (STs) get 15 per cent reservation. The ordinance on the EBC quota will be issued on May 1, Gujarat’s foundation day, to be applicable for an annual income cap of Rs 6 lakh — Rs 50,000 per month –for ‘upper-caste’ people excluding the OBC/ST/SC.
This upper cap is likely to include a large chunk of upper-middle class from the upper castes which also forms a core vote bank of the BJP. It remains to be seen how the ordinance will define ‘upper-castes’ and, if the upper cap income of Rs 6 lakh per year will also apply to people from other religions like Muslims and Christians.
The immediate reason for the decision is the Patidar quota stir led by Hardik Patel who remains in jail on sedition charges even as five of his colleagues who were part of the agitation, were set free on bail, on
The Patidar community is not only the symbol of ‘upper castes’ in Gujarat but also the backbone of the BJP’s vote bank in the state. The Patidar agitation, that had started on July 6 last year is nearly nine months old now. During the agitation Gujarat has witnessed a number of riots in BJP strongholds of Mehsana, Ahmedabad, Surat, etc. that have forced the government to impose curfew and restrict mobile internet services.
Contrary to the Patidar’s demand to include them in the OBC list, the government has declared reservation on an economic basis. With this the BJP has stood by Chief Minister Patel’s statement at the beginning of the Patidar stir that the Patidars could not be OBCs — by this move it has also kept the latter happy.
Amit Shah’s role in the decision suggests that the saffron party maybe trying to signal to upper caste voters in UP its willingness to introduce a similar provision there if they come to power after next year’s assembly polls.
For the past many weeks, a high level committee of senior state ministers has tried in vain to negotiate a compromise with the Patidar leaders. A section of the Patidar leadership has reacted to the reservation by calling it a “lollipop”.
In a sense, the BJP has followed the lead of the opposition Congress which introduced a private member’s bill to introduce 20 per cent reservation for EBCs in the budget session of the Gujarat assembly which ended on March 31. Though the bill did not come up for discussion in the assembly, the BJP’s announcement of 10 per cent reservation for EBCs comes just a month later.
Politically, the BJP seems to have tried to kill two birds with one stone. The Congress is unlikely to oppose the ordinance and nor will the SCs, STs and OBCs. The move will also act as an important tool to deflate the Patidar agitation.
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