On Thursday, the Akhilesh Yadav government approved a proposal to include 17 Other Backward Castes (OBC) in the Scheduled Castes (SC) list. The proposal - clearly aimed at wooing the OBCs in the coming elections - has brought the old genie out of the bottle.
The Samajwadi Party is touting this decision as the fulfillment of one of its promises made during the last state elections. However, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has accused the government of deceiving the people.
Meanwhile, political posturing has intensified on the issue. Virtually, every party is supporting the inclusion of 17 Other Backward Castes in the SC list, or, at least, pretending to do so. None of them wants to miss the opportunity to claim credit for the decision.
The following castes are going to be the beneficiaries of this move - Rajbhar, Nishad, Prajapati, Mallah, Kahar, Kashyap, Kumhar, Dheemar, Bind, Bhar, Kewat, Dhivar, Batham, Machua, Manjhi, Tura and Gond. Currently, all of these castes fall under the OBC category as per the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.
A closer look at the contemporary political history of UP reveals all parties have played the politics of reservation during the past decade. As a result, these 17 castes have been reduced to a political football in the power game. Every political player has manipulated them for vested interests. But the condition of these communities remained backward.
The ball was set rolling by the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 2005. The Mulayam Cabinet passed the resolution and sent the recommendation to the Centre for the inclusion of these castes in SC list.
However, the then UPA government gave no satisfactory response. Yet, Mulayam went ahead and issued a government order giving SC category certificates to the members of these castes. Eventually, the matter reached the Allahabad High Court, which struck down the decision.
The law mandates the sanction of the Union Government before including any caste in the SC list.
In 2007, BSP government came to power in the state. The Chief Minister Mayawati's Cabinet sent a similar resolution to the Centre. This time, the state government also recommended that the SC quote be increased to accommodate these 17 castes in the SC list. The proposal is still awaiting Centre's response.
The SP and the BSP pointed fingers at each other on the issue. Mulayam's party alleged that Mayawati had deliberately relegated these castes to the OBC status and used proxies to take the matter to the court.
The BSP, on its part, explained that these castes were not included in the SC list and were also taken out of the OBC category. Since this was depriving them of reservation benefits, the Mayawati government had no option but to re-induct them in the OBC list.
In 2012, SP's election manifesto reiterated the promise to include these castes in the SC list. The issue was kept alive for the last four-and-a-half years. Soon after assuming office, the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav acceded to the demand of these castes to declare Nishad Raj Jayanti (April 5) as a public holiday.
Now, Akhilesh Yadav has followed the footsteps of his father to send the recommendation of including these castes in the SC list. The Samajwadi Party recently called a convention of these 17 castes at its office. Addressing the convention, Mulayam Singh Yadav exhorted the representatives of these castes to "wake up."
The ruling party has also projected several prominent leaders belonging to these castes. These include Gayatri Prajapati, Rajpal Kashyap and Shankhlal Manjhi. Meanwhile, CM Akhilesh Yadav wrote a letter to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. He also sought to answer the objections raised by the Union government in this regard.
Akhilesh has once again put the ball in Centre's court in the run-up to the Assembly polls.
Political significance of the 17 castes
The 17 castes under question are evenly spread across all the 403 Assembly segments in the state. Every constituency has around 25,000-35,000 voters belonging to these castes. Mulayam was the first leader to understand the political significance of these castes. This was reflected in his decision to field former bandit Phoolan Devi, who belonged to the Mallah/Nishad caste, in Parliamentary elections in 1996. .
Mulayam's decision paid dividends as these castes supported the Samajwadi Party. Later, BSP was able to woo them with its slogan "Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni bhagidari (Greater the number, greater the participation.)" Currently, the voters belonging to these castes stand divided among various parties. BJP too is trying hard to win them over.
Almost all these castes are the most backward sections among OBCs. They can be termed as Most Backward Castes (MBC). Nitish Kumar has successfully prepared a new support base in Bihar by bifurcating OBCs along the same lines. The Samajwadi Party is trying to replicate the same experiment. However, this might not be possible without Centre's nod.