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As Congress Tries To Brand Itself as 'Pro-OBC', Representation Demands Grow

Rahul Gandhi's 'jitni aabadi, utna haq' call, has led to demands for higher OBC representation within Congress.

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The Congress party is aiming to double-down on its Other Backward Classes (OBC) representation plank ahead of the assembly elections in five states in the coming months. The party had made an emphatic bid for OBC quota while debating the Women Reservation Bill in the parliament last month and has also been demanding a nation-wide caste census. It now finds state leaders pushing for more OBC candidates to be fielded in the upcoming polls.

Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi is leading the party’s attempt to reassert itself as a party with strong OBC representation across the totem pole. This also comes on the heels of the Bihar caste census— the first census of all castes in India to be published —which is expected to heavily influence and shape the course of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

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Telangana OBC Leaders Say Give Us More Tickets 

In the last week of September, the Congress’ national leadership invited Congress OBC state unit heads to Delhi and asked for a robust compilation of data showing the state of educational, health and empowerment markers among OBC populations across their respective states. Sources said that the party intends on using this data to inform its decision-making pertaining to issues it needs to raise in OBC-dominated districts during the polls, as well as pitch policy measures accordingly in its manifesto before 2024.

This renewed push has also meant that more local Congress leaders from OBC communities are demanding that there be higher number of OBC candidates that the party fields.

Telangana Congress’ Backward Caste (BC) leaders met last month and decided that a delegation be sent to Delhi to meet the national party leadership and make their demands be heard.

Campaign Committee chairman Madhu Yaskhi Goud, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) working president Mahesh Kumar Goud, former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) presidents Ponnala Lakshmaiah and V. Hanumantha Rao, and former MP Ponnam Prabhakar, among others, told the media that the party must recognise the OBC leaders given the high percentage of OBC population in the state. Telangana is estimated to have over 50 per cent OBC population. Telangana, which has a 119-member strong assembly, has 31 seats reserved for SC and ST candidates. Sources said that state OBC leaders have demanded that at least 34 of the seats have OBC candidates fielded by Congress.

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While the party is yet to arrive at a decision on this count, sources said that the Congress leadership is cognisant of the import of the OBC vote in the state. Thus, on October 10, the party is expected to launch a drive in the state, with its three OBC CMs at the forefront: Rajasthan's Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh's Bhupesh Baghel and Karnataka’s Siddaramaiah.

Rahul Gandhi's Pro-OBC Pitch

The intention here is to re-brand itself as a fiercely OBC-friendly party. This comes as Rahul Gandhi has been arguing for both a caste census as well as an OBC ‘quota-within-quota', while those in the ruling BJP point out that the UPA had failed on both counts.

Addressing a press conference after the passing of the Women Reservation Bill in September, Gandhi acknowledged the Congress-led UPA’s mistake. “We have 100% regret that we didn’t include OBCs in the Women’s Reservation Bill that was passed when we were in government,” Gandhi said. In 2010, the Congress had introduced a Bill for women’s reservation, which failed to become a law, despite passing in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was not taken up in the Lower House and later lapsed with the end of the 15th Lok Sabha term. But the bill never included any quota for women politicians from the OBC community.

Moreover, in 2011, the Congress-led UPA had conducted a socio economic and caste census (SECC), but never ended up releasing this data.

The Congress is thus now trying to ensure its position on OBC empowerment doesn’t leave any scope for doubt. When the Bihar caste census was released earlier this week, Gandhi tweeted, “The caste census of Bihar has revealed that OBC + SC + ST are 84% . Out of 90 secretaries of the Central Government, only 3 are OBC, who handle only 5% of India's budget! Therefore, it is important to know the caste statistics of India. The greater the population, the greater the rights – this is our pledge.”

Congress' Complicated History With OBC Representation

‘Jitni Aabadi, Utna Haq!’ or ‘The greater the population, the bigger the rights’ is effectively the pitch of the Congress when it comes to issues of caste census. However, this isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP, expressed his disagreement with this motto. "Equality of opportunity is never the same as equality of outcomes. People endorsing #jitniabadiutnahaq have to first completely understand the consequences of it. It will eventually culminate into majoritarianism," the Rajya Sabha MP said in a tweet which was deleted later.

The Congress rushed to damage control, distancing itself from Singhvi’s comment.

"Dr. Singhvi's tweet may be a reflection of his own personal view but in no way does it reflect the position of the Indian National Congress — the essence of which is contained both in the Raipur Declaration on 26th February, 2023 and in the CWC Resolution of September 16th, 2023".

Many critics also point out Rajiv Gandhi’s oppositon to the Mandal commission report in 1990, at the peak of student-led anti-Mandal protests. Rajiv Gandhi had likened the report, forwarded by the VP Singh government, as an attempt to divide the country’s citizens similar to how the British did.

However, since then, the party has recognised its folly, owing to the rise of Mandal parties in the Hindi heartland over the years.

The UPA government for instance came out with quota for OBC students in higher education institutions, and in recent times, the party has tried to make OBC leaders its face in state elections. In fact three of the four Congress CMs at the moment are from OBC communities—Gehlot, Baghel and Siddaramaiah. Moreover, in February this year at the Raipur plenary session, the party had declared a 50 percent reservation across All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) posts for SCs, STs and OBCs.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  OBC   rahul gandhi congress   OBC Census 

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