The then Prime Minister, the late VP Singh, was persuaded in 1990 by the late Ram Vilas Paswan to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission providing 27 percent reservations to the ‘socially and educationally backward classes’. The calculation was that the consequent surge of ‘gratitude’ would bring VP Singh back to power. The genie that had been suppressed for many years by earlier governments was let out of the box, but did not benefit VP Singh in any way. Such pandering to vested interests almost always does not work out as expected. In fact, what it did do was transform the so-called ‘samajwadi’ parties into outright caste-based ones that came to dominate specific regions. It also led to a reaction in the UP hills that boosted the Uttarakhand movement enough to result in formation of a separate state.
The ‘OBC’ based parties enjoyed a period of political dominance till such time that other sections of society wised up to the game. Their fall was hastened by the blatant abandonment of political principles for self-serving and corrupt governance, thereby alienating those adversely affected. The dominant castes among the ‘backwards’, monopolised power at the cost of social equity. According to one study, just one percent of dominant OBCS benefited as much as fifty percent from educational reservations. It may be recalled that Lalu Yadav had opposed reservation for women in the legislatures as ‘par katis’ (women with short-hair) from the upper castes would likely get elected.
Those who benefited, however, have not forgotten and are now demanding a rerun of those days with the demand for holding the census on the basis of caste. The expectation is that the OBCs would come to be over sixty percent of the population. Consequently, it would lead, among other things, to a demand for a rise in the educational and job reservations for these sections. Political reservation would follow. If denied, the resentment on this score could be utilised for political mobilisation and polarisation. Even a supposedly middle of the road politician like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has climbed on to the bandwagon.
In all these calculations, it is forgotten that the present dispensation basically has an OBC as Prime Minister, whose support base is carefully crafted across a more inclusive and cross-sectional pattern. He has adopted policies that have not only attempted economic reform, but also distributive justice for all, particularly through the digital India initiatives. It will be for India’s diverse population to make the choice – politics based on dominant caste permutations or a system that is just to all on the basis of every individual’s needs.