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Govt quota move part of OBC outreach ahead of key state polls

This comes close on the heels of two other measures taken by the Narendra Modi government, which were seen as attempts to reach out to backward communities – BJP's significant support base that has expanded in the past decade.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: July 30, 2021 7:40:42 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda. (Express Photo/File)

AHEAD OF the Uttar Pradesh elections, the BJP-led central government’s move on Thursday to approve reservation for students from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) categories in medical colleges signals a reinforcement of its social justice politics, an issue on which regional parties have always tried to corner it.

This comes close on the heels of two other measures taken by the Narendra Modi government, which were seen as attempts to reach out to backward communities – BJP’s significant support base that has expanded in the past decade.

In the recent ministry expansion, Modi increased the OBC representation in his government to 27, including five Cabinet ministers. Also, the central government moved a review petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the court’s interpretation of the 102nd amendment of the Constitution in the Maratha reservation judgment that scrapped the power of the states to identify and notify socially and educationally backward classes.

Sources in the BJP said with the apex court dismissing the review petition, the central government is likely to come up with an amendment seeking to give powers to the states to identify the socially and educationally backward classes – a demand made by representatives of the OBC community.

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The BJP, which relied on the OBC support base for its electoral wins in the recent past, was rattled when its alliance with the JD(U) led by Nitish Kumar barely managed to scrape through in last year’s Bihar elections, indicating that rival RJD bagged a considerable chunk of backward class support. In the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, the party wants to ensure its support among the OBC communities stays intact. With the weakening of the Congress and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, BJP strategists apprehend that the Samajwadi Party could bag a section of the OBC votes and consolidate the minority votes.

Party leaders admitted that there had been a feeling among OBC representatives, including those in the BJP, that after registering impressive wins in the 2019 general elections and state elections that followed, the BJP did not provide the “required share of power and positions” to them. “However, the recent Cabinet reshuffle has assuaged those apprehensions,” said a senior party leader.

Incidentally, the Centre’s decision on quota for the OBCs and EWS categories in medical colleges comes a day after a delegation of BJP and NDA MPs from OBC communities met Prime Minister Modi to demand that reservation for OBCs and EWS candidates be made from the all-India quota for the MBBS and postgraduate courses under National Eligibility cum Entrance Examination.

“It is a very significant move,” said BJP MP Ganesh Singh, who was part of the delegation. “Despite the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in jobs, students from economically and socially backward classes were not getting reservation benefits in medical colleges. There has been lot of complaints from the OBC communities and the situation was becoming bit bad. The BJP as a party started feeling it is injustice and Prime Minister Modiji also acknowledged that it was not fair.”

“BJP is the party that worked for the OBCs the most. After the Mandal Commission, nothing much happened to the communities. But this government passed the Bill to grant constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes,” he said.

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