August 14, 2021 3:25:01 am
Amid the BJD government’s push for a caste census and to increase the quota ceiling beyond 50 per cent through Central legislation, the ruling party on Friday decided to field 27 per cent OBC candidates in the upcoming panchayat elections, triggering a war of words with the opposition BJP.
BJD leader and minister Ranendra Pratap Swain said, “This is a historic day for all of us in the state, especially for those who have been neglected. It will pave the way to ensure social justice as party MPs have been fighting for a long time for caste-based census.”
In 2008, the High Court had struck down the state government’s proposal to provide more than 11.25 percent reservation to OBCs as it crossed the 50 percent cap limit. The state already has a large population of STs and SCs taking up 22.5 and 16.25 per cent of the reservation share.
The BJP, which has repeatedly criticised the ruling BJD for not challenging the High Court order to provide 27 per cent quota for OBCs, on Friday tried to play down the ruling party’s decision.
Calling the recent move as an internal matter of the party, without any major benefit for the state at a larger level, state BJP general secretary, Prithviraj Harichandan said, “Reserving seats for OBC candidates is the party’s internal politics. Until and unless the party gives reservation to the common public in jobs and educational institutes, it won’t be of any betterment for the citizens.”
However, political analysts believe it is a significant decision amid the ongoing tussle over a caste census and reservation cap, in view of the upcoming panchayat elections.
“This will be a political advantage for the BJD as the move will be registered amongst the voters. But at the same time, though the OBCs account for 54 per cent of the state’s population, caste has never been a major driving force in state politics. So with this reservation, BJD has introduced a brand new game plan,” said political analyst Dr Satya Prakash Dash.
The BJP has continuously outperformed itself, steadily gaining ground in the state, in recent elections. In 2017 panchayat polls, BJP surged in rural Odisha, winning 473 of the 853 zilla parishad seats. In 2019, the BJP registered a jump of 16.9 percent in its vote share from 2014. In the 2019 Assembly elections, BJP won 23 seats, emerging as the main opposition. It also won eight out of 21 Lok Sabha seats, four short of those won by the BJD.
With elections approaching, the initial camaraderie reflected by the parties after the general elections seems to be fizzling out.
The BJD refused to back the contested farm laws and has been blaming the Centre and the Food Corporation of India over the inability of paddy farmers to sell their produce in the state.
The dissension over Central and state schemes has also intensified.
There have been several protests by the BJP as it accused the BJD government of “hijacking” and taking credit for Central schemes, pointing to the absence of PM Narendra Modi’s photographs during vaccination drives, and “rebranding” of houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin.