In his first Independence Day speech as Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Congress’s Bhupesh Baghel made a major political announcement – increasing the Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation from 14 to 27 percent – a dream of the Mandal Commission.
However, it was overshadowed by the decision to create 25 new tehsils in the state, adding to the existing 150, among others. The OBC quota announcement was a bolt from the blue, as it was not even part of the Congress party’s election manifesto or campaign.
It was not promised, and probably was not discussed within the ruling party in the state. It appeared to be a surprise Independence Day gift to the OBC population, who form half the state’s population, by one of their own leaders (Baghel himself is an OBC). Baghel has also pushed for an additional 1 percent to the existing Scheduled Caste quota, in a bid to raise it from 12 to 13 percent.
But the Scheduled Tribe quota has been left untouched. So now, Chhattisgarh has 13 percent reservation for SCs, 32 percent for STs, and the OBCs, who comprise 50 percent of the state’s population, will get 27 percent.
The news has charged up job-hunting youth in the state— especially those from the General Category — who now stand a lower chance.
Not the End of Reservation Politics
Once approved by the state Cabinet and an Ordinance or Act in the Assembly, Chhattisgarh will be among the states with the highest percentage of reservation in the country, beating even Tamil Nadu (69 percent reservation). However, Chhattisgarh’s ‘parent state’ Madhya Pradesh, will be just a step ahead with 73 percent, for now.
This is not the end of reservation politics in Chhattisgarh. While most locals are yet to fully comprehend the repercussions, the youth, who are busy preparing for tens of thousands of government jobs, have been charged up — especially the General Category youth who will now stand a lower chance. They had 42 percent seats in jobs and educational institutes till 14 August, and will have 14 percent less from 15 August, once the additional OBC and SC quotas are implemented.
Chhattisgarh might just follow in MP’s foot steps, and extend the quota further to (total) 82 percent including EWS, before the municipal polls.
Within the General Category, the economically weaker section may get 10 percent very soon, and that would further reduce opportunities for the above EWS General Candidate to just 18 percent. Within a few months, opportunities for the above-EWS candidates may be reduced from 42 percent to just 18 percent.
Will MP’s Actions On Reservation Impact Chhattisgarh?
Within days of Independence Day 2019, the General Category representatives met the chief minister, and demanded 10 percent EWS reservation for them, as implemented by PM Narendra Modi in the central government, and recently followed by the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.
Chhattisgarh was a part of undivided Madhya Pradesh till October 2000, so it is a common and frequent practice to look to each other for precedence. MP had increased its OBC reservation from 13 to 27 percent last June, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. It had also implemented 10 percent EWS quota within the General Category. The state is now facing a strong demand to reserve 7 percent for the Extremely Backward within OBC.
Chhattisgarh will be compelled to follow MP, and the quota announcement could further be extended to (total) 82 percent including EWS, before the municipal elections, which are scheduled to happen in 6 months.
Baghel seems to have outshone all other OBC leaders with his surprise move.
Mandal Will Finally Rest In Peace
The Congress had outwitted the BJP in the Chhattisgarh assembly elections last November, but had suffered a shocking loss in the parliamentary elections soon after. So, the OBC card is expected to be a ‘life-saving trick’ for the state Congress in the local body elections, with around 50 percent OBC voters.
OBC reservation increased through an Ordinance or Act, should not face any problems in the state assembly, because non-Congress MLAs are not likely to commit ‘political suicide’ by opposing it.
Chief Minister Baghel himself is the most prominent OBC leader of Chhattisgarh, and had the biggest contribution to the Congress party’s return to power after a fifteen-year gap. In the race to becoming CM, Baghel faced stiff opposition from another OBC leader, Tamradhwaj Sahu, a minister in the state and member of the Congress Working Committee.
So, within the OBC politics of Chhattisgarh, and the Congress party too, Baghel has outshone all other leaders with this surprise move. In all probability, he was not required to get a clearance from the Congress high command for this.
To counter the BJP’s aggressive Hindu-nationalism, this is a state model of regionalism, appeasing a community with 50 percent vote share. Mandal will finally rest in peace — in Chhattisgarh!
(The writer is editor and publisher of 'Daily Chhattisgarh'. He tweets @editorsunil. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)