(This article was originally published in 19 August and is being reposted in light of the PM Vishwakarma Scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Vishwakarma Jayanti.)
The battle for the vote of Other Backward Class (OBC) has heated up ahead of the state elections due at the year end and general elections due next year. While the Central government has announced a Rs 13,000 crore PM Vishwakarma Yojana, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan has announced a 6% additional reservation for the most backward castes among the OBCs.
The outlay under the Vishwakarma scheme will benefit about 30 lakh families by 2028 of artisans and craftsmen, primarily belonging to the OBCs. They will be provided credit support of up to Rs 1 lakh (first tranche) and Rs 2 lakh (second tranche) with a concessional interest rate of 5%.
Last week, the Rajasthan government announced that it will provide 6% reservation to Most Backward Castes among the OBCs which will be in addition to the 21% reservation the state already provides to Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
"A survey will be conducted by the OBC commission to identify the most backward castes in the OBC category and the commission will submit the report in a time-bound manner," Ashok Gehlot tweeted while announcing the decision.
The Rise of BJP Amongst OBCs
The OBC vote is very crucial in Lok Sabha elections, OBCs account for 40%-45% of the population by different counts, as high as 52% by Mandal Commission, and have emerged as kingmakers in the last two polls.
30 lakh families will be benefited under the Vishwakarma scheme, which translates into 90 lakh votes, a 1% vote base of around 90 crores in 2019. This could be crucial in a tight election in 2024.
The OBC voters in the Hindi heartland have largely moved to the BJP over the years. The OBC support for the BJP has doubled from 22% in 2009 to 44% in the 2019 general elections.
This increase in support has been at the expense of Congress and socialist parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailing from the community and wearing it up his sleeve, BJP’s claim of giving higher representation to OBCs in central ministry and during ticket allocation in general or state elections, the formation of OBC commission to address their issues through the constitutional framework has all drummed up support for the BJP amongst OBCs.
Recent research by Nishant from TISS shows that BJP has had the highest share (30.9%) of OBC CMs, while this number is the lowest for Congress (17.2%). The share of non-Congress non-BJP parties among OBC chief ministers is 28%.
BJP’s Hindutva and strong nationalism pitch has also helped it attract OBCs across the country to its fold.
The BJP has put focussed efforts on non-dominant OBCs, lower / extremely / most backward OBCs which have not been paid due attention by other parties.
There are around sub-caste in the central list of OBCs, including 90+ in Rajasthan.
The Janata Dal breakaways groups in the North like SP and RJD have been accused of largely representing Yadavs, while Gowdas in the South largely representing Vokkaligas, Lok Dal units in Haryana and UP like INLD and RLD largely representing Jats.
Gehlot Attempts To Break BJP Hold in Rajasthan
Gujjars and Jats are amongst the most influential OBC communities in Rajasthan. Gehlot belongs to the Mali sub-caste which accounts for 2%-3% of the state's population. Gujjars and Jats have been switching sides and backing the winner over the years as caste loyalties are not fixed in the state.
However, the other OBCs, who are 90+ in number and account for 20-25% of the population have been backing the BJP over the years as shown in the chart below.
Gehlot’s aim through the reservation dangle is to wean away these other OBC groups from BJP as the additional 6% is exclusively for these sub-caste groups.
In the outgoing assembly, some 35 MLAs belong to other OBC groups. These groups have been giving a vote share advantage of anywhere between 2% to 7% to the BJP over the years.
The 6% additional quota for the OBCs takes the total reservation to 70% including 16% for Scheduled Castes, 12% for STs, 21% for OBCs, 5% for Gujjars, Banjaras, Gadia Lohars, Raikas, and Gadarias (under judicial review), and 10% for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) which is above the 50% Supreme Court-mandated ceiling. So, it remains to be seen how he will implement this.
Rajasthan a Model for “Jiski Jitni Sankhya Bhaari Uski Utni Hissedaari”
Gehlot’s step can be seen in line with the demand for a caste-based census by Congress at the national level. Peer chief ministers like Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik have already instituted a caste-based census.
The BJP over the last nine years has been somewhat successful in breaking caste-based narratives, uniting upper caste, backward, Dalits, and tribals under the Hindutva umbrella and its Nationalism pitch.
With an 80% Hindu population, even half of their support translates into a 40% vote share for the BJP at the national level, enough to queer the pitch. Even in Rajasthan, where Hindus account for 90% population, a 50% support for BJP translates into a 45% vote share, which is high enough to quell Congress.
While ostensibly the goal of Gehlot and others like Nitish is the welfare of the most backward in OBCs, it appears evident that the real ploy is to divide the Hindu vote on the basis of caste lines to weaken the BJP ahead of the polls.
Is it too little too late? The step taken in the last three months of Gehlot’s 3rd tenure can be called anything but political. Can Gehlot pull it off remains to be seen.
BJP’s Attempt To Consolidate the OBC Vote and Neutralise Caste Census Demand
The BJP which has opposed the demand for a caste-based census, doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. It enjoys the patronage of the highest number of OBCs in the country. BJP hopes to further consolidate the hold over OBCs by wooing the artisan/craftsmen/lower OBC community through the Vishwakarma scheme.
Will BJP be successful or will the demand for caste census create fissures within the BJP vote? Only time will tell.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)