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UP election: High Court throws a spanner in Akhilesh's strategy to woo OBCs

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 25 January 2017, 21:00 IST

In a setback to Akhilesh Yadav's strategy to win over the OBC vote bank, the Allahabad High Court Wednesday stayed his government's proposal to grant Scheduled Caste status to 17 Other Backward Classes.

The court also told the government to not issue fresh caste certificates, and directed the principal secretary, social welfare, to ensure no individual from these OBCs is issued an SC certificate.

The Uttar Pradesh government issued a notification on 22 December 2016 granting SC status to Kahar, Kashyap, Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Bind, Bhar, Kumhar, Prajapati, Dheenvar, Rajbhar, Dheemar, Batham, Turha, Godiya, Manjhi and Machhua castes.

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It was an attempt to broaden the Samajwadi Party's voter base, and counter the BJP's strategy of winning over OBCs. The saffron party had made clear its intentions towards the OBCs by first appointing Keshav Prasad Maurya as its state president and then inducting Swami Prasad Maurya from the BSP. The BJP has also tied up with Om Prakash Rajbhar's Suheldev Bahujan Samaj Party, which claims influence in 56 constituencies of eastern UP, a stronghold of the SP and BSP.

The 17 castes on Akhilesh's radar constitute 13.63% of the state's population, which puts them in a position to change the electoral fortunes of any political party.

It may have been only a poll-time gimmick by Akhilesh to woo the 17 castes, still he must have known that adding new castes to the SC list is not within a state government's rights. Indeed, Dr BR Ambedkar Granthalay Jan Kalyan Society, which challenged the notification, argued that under Article 341 of the Constitution only the central government is empowered to list any caste in the SC or OBC categories.

Akhilesh's government had earlier tried to take these 17 castes off the OBC list just before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but the proposal was blocked by the central government. So, he waited till the fag end of his tenure to rake up the issue again.

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Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP government, too, had passed a similar order in 2005 granting SC status to these 17 castes. That order was also stayed by the Allahabad High Court, although then the proposal had only been sent to the Centre and left at that.

When Mayawati became chief minister in 2007, she rejected Mulayam's proposal as it would have hurt her vote bank.

Political scientist Prof SK Dwivedi questioned the Akhilesh government's motive in issuing the December notification. The Samajwadi Party, he said, already enjoyed support of some backward castes, with Yadavs leading the queue. By including some OBCs in the SC reserved category, he wanted to reduce the size of the pie for those already in that category such as Chamars, Pasis. And that would have hurt Mayawati, Dwivedi argued.

"The purpose of the notification was obviously more political than the uplift of these castes," said Dwivedi, who felt that political parties have used caste reservation for their own advantage rather than for the empowerment of those who need it.

Samajwadi Party's Chandrashekhar, however, justified the notification saying these 17 OBCs were socially and economically as bad, if not worse, as any of the SCs, and that is why the government wanted to put them in the reserved category.

He said the government would not only try to get the stay vacated but also mount pressure on the Centre to revise the SC list and bring these OBCs in that category.

Another SP leader, who did not want to be quoted, was more forthright, "The political benefit of this would have accrued directly to us."

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First published: 25 January 2017, 21:00 IST