Attempted social engineering bids by the former Samajwadi Party (SP) government and the current BJP-led administration with an eye on the votes of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) came to a nought this week when the Allahabad High Court on August 31 quashed two Uttar Pradesh government orders notifying 17 OBC sub-castes as Scheduled Caste (SC). The court observed that only Parliament has the power to make additions to the SC list.
The Akhilesh Yadav-led government issued the first order on December 22, 2016. The second was issued by the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government on June 24, 2019. But none of these governments issued SC caste certificates to these groups. Earlier, the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led SP government and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) administration had attempted to include the 17 OBC communities in the SC list.
“But none of the governments — of Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh, Mayawati or Mulayam — followed the due procedure of getting approval of Parliament. They used these moves only to get votes of OBCs,” said Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) president Om Prakash Rajbhar who was the Cabinet Minister for Backward Classes Welfare for two years in the previous Adityanath administration.
The sub-castes that all these governments wanted to include in the SC category are Kahaar, Kashyap, Kevat, Mallah, Nishad, Kumhar, Prajapati, Dheevar, Bind, Bhar, Rajbhar, Dhimar, Batham, Turha, Godia, Manjhi, and Machhua.
“Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government issued the order but did not get the approval of the UPA government despite his party supporting the Congress at the Centre. The Akhilesh government too did not obtain approval from the Centre. Likewise, the BJP government too could not get sanction of Parliament when it has own government in the Centre,” Rajbhar said, adding that a caste census should be conducted before making changes in the OBC and SC lists.
During her tenure from 2007 to 2012, Mayawati sent a letter to the Congress government at the Centre to include the 17 groups in the SC list constitutionally and also proportionally increase the SC quota so that the 17 communities receive the benefit of reservation and the existing SC groups do not lose out because of the change.
In all, the BJP, the SP and the BSP have ruled UP in the last two decades and in that time they made five attempts to get the 17 sub-castes categorised as SCs, illustrating the political significance of these groups. According to an estimate by the UP Backward Classes Welfare Department, these sub-castes make up around 15 per cent of the state’s population.
A group on the SC list gets more government benefits than the communities on the OBC list. Also, since the OBC population is larger, there is more competition among OBC groups for reservation benefits and the 17 sub-castes would have benefitted from being moved to the SC list.
The move would have helped the SP as its core constituency, the OBC Yadavs (who comprise around 10 per cent of the UP population), would have had more benefits for itself with these 17 sub-castes gone. The sub-castes are socially most backward, and many depend on small occupations in rural areas. For instance, Nishads earn from fishing while Kumhars depend on making earthen pots.
For the BJP, the move was dictated by its dependence on non-Yadav OBC votes that contributed hugely to its strong performance in UP in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP had an alliance in UP with the SBSP that has influence among Rajbhar votes in eastern UP. But Rajbhar allied with the SP in the Assembly polls this year and damaged the BJP’s prospects on several seats in the eastern UP districts of Ghazipur, Mau, and Azamgarh, among others. To somewhat offset the loss of the SBSP to the Opposition camp, the ruling party allied with the Nishad Party, which wields influence in the Nishad community.
Both the BJP and the SP likely did not factor in that this would anger SC groups as OBCs are numerically a far larger group and Dalits have not traditionally voted for them. Jatav Dalits are the BSP’s core constituency while the votes non-Jatav SC groups get divided among the BJP, the Congress, and other parties.