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Why OBCs are Key for BJP Before 2024


The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Allahabad High Court order directing the Uttar Pradesh government to hold urban local body polls without reservation for the OBCs.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, and directed that a panel appointed by the state government will have to decide the OBC quota related issues for the local bodies poll by March 31, 2023.

The top court permitted the state government to appoint administrators to run the affairs of the local bodies after the expiry of the tenure of the elected representatives. It, however, said the administrators will not be empowered to take major policy decisions.

A Look at the Issue

The Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench had ordered the UP government and the state election commission to hold the ULB elections by January 31 without reserving seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) because the state had not followed the triple-test formula. The court also stated that the seats reserved for OBCs should be announced as a general category for these elections.

The government of Yogi Adityanath had appealed the HC order to the Supreme Court. Following the order to meet the triple test formula, the government also established a backward class commission.

The Lucknow bench of the high court had ordered that the state government notify the polls “immediately” as the term of several municipalities would end by January 31, while annulling the December 5 draft notification. The court had directed the state election commission to hold the elections by January 31 after transferring the OBC seats in the draft notification to the general category.

What was UP draft notification?

The UP government had issued a provisional list of reserved seats for mayors of 17 municipal corporations, chairs of 200 municipal councils, and 545 nagar panchayats for the three-tier urban elections in December.

It had requested comments and suggestions on this draft within seven days.

The draft notification designated four mayoral seats for OBC candidates in Aligarh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Meerut, and Prayagraj. Mayorships in Aligarh and Mathura-Vrindavan were reserved for OBC women.

In addition, 54 of the 200 municipal council chairperson seats were reserved for OBCs, including 18 for OBC women. 147 of the 545 nagar panchayat chairperson seats were reserved for OBC candidates, including 49 for OBC women.

What is the Triple Test?

The High Court had rejected the OBC reservation in urban local body polls on grounds that Adityanath government failed to adhere to the “triple test formula” laid down by the Supreme Court.

The triple tests are three prerequisites for providing such a reservation. In the case of Vikas Kishanrao Gawali vs. State of Maharashtra (2021), the Supreme Court imposed three conditions:

(1) To establish a dedicated Commission to conduct concurrent rigorous empirical research into the nature and implications of population backwardness in the context of political participation.

(2) to specify the proportion of reservations that must be provisioned locally based on Commission recommendations in order to avoid overbreadth;

(3) In any case, such reservation shall not exceed 50% of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs combined.

The Supreme Court stated in its decision that the reservation cannot be notified unless these conditions are met.

“In a given local body, the space for providing such reservation in favour of OBCs may be available at the time of issuing election programme (notifications). However, that could be notified only upon fulfilling the aforementioned pre­conditions… To put it differently, it will not be open to respondents to justify the reservation for OBCs without fulfilling the triple test, referred to above,” said the SC judgement, according to an Outlook report.

WHY DID YOGI CREATE THE OBC COMMISSION?

Soon after the Allahabad HC quashed the UP government’s provisional list of reserved seats in ULB polls, the Opposition reacted and accused the BJP of failing to protect the interest of the “weaker sections”. “The rights of the weaker sections are being snatched away,” said Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, said the BJP was anti-reservation, while JD (U) leader KC Tyagi reportedly said, “There should be no elections without OBC reservation.”

In response to the HC order and opposition criticism, Chief Minister Adityanath had unequivocally stated that the ULB elections will take place only after the OBCs are granted quota benefits.

To salvage and reaffirm its position, Adityanath appointed a five-member OBC commission, led by retired high court judge Justice Ram Avatar Singh, to conduct a survey of municipal bodies to determine how many seats should be reserved for OBCs in ULB elections. The members are all from the OBC, a report by India Today said.

Why are OBCs Important for BJP?

Keeping the OBCs in good spirits is critical for the BJP. Since 2014, the OBCs have overwhelmingly supported the BJP, with the exception of some Yadavs and Jats. Providing a quota for them in ULB elections is not only a politically important, but also an image-building exercise for the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“OBCs are biggest vote bank in UP and with its support BJP came to power in UP in the 2017 and 2022 polls and won maximum Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. After this court order (the HC one), the Opposition has got an opportunity to do propaganda against the BJP by calling it anti-reservation. If they succeed it can cause a major damage to BJP nationally ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The party and the state government will certainly come out with some strategy to control the situation,” a BJP leader had told the Indian Express.

In UP, a Social Justice Committee appointed by then-CM Rajnath Singh in 2001 had estimated that OBCs made up 43.13% of the state’s population, the Indian Express report explained. The Yadav community alone accounts for roughly 19% of the state’s OBC population, which supports the SP. The BJP has attempted to erode the SP’s Yadav vote bank by sending community leaders to the Rajya Sabha and the state Legislative Council.

Kurmis, Kachhi-Kushwaha-Shakya-Maurya-Saini-Mali, Lodhs, Jats (who are OBC in UP), Kewat (Nishad), Shepherd-Pal, Kahar-Kashyap, and Bhar-Rajbhar are also OBC communities.

The BJP’s state president is a Jat leader, but the party’s OBC candidate lost the Khatauli Assembly seat in Muzaffarnagar earlier this month to the RLD’s OBC nominee. For the past 30 years, the BJP has worked to establish a base among non-Yadav OBCs in order to compete with the SP’s formidable Yadav-Muslim alliance, the report says.

The BJP allied with the Apna Dal (SP) and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) in the 2017 Assembly elections to consolidate Kurmi and Rajbhar votes. When the SBSP joined forces with the SP in the 2022 elections, the BJP partnered with the Nishad Party, which contested 10 seats and won six, while the Apna Dal (S) won 12 of the 17 seats it contested. The SP formed a rainbow coalition with the RLD and several smaller parties with bases among various OBC caste groups in the 2022 elections, which improved their prospects.

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