The Supreme Court has paved the way for local bodies’ election in Madhya Pradesh by accepting 14 per cent reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The matter has been hanging in the balance ever since the then Congress government proposed a 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs. The apex court had declared the legislation to provide for the reservation unacceptable as it exceeded the limit of 50 per cent it had fixed for all kinds of reservations. The percentage of 14 was reached after allowing for all kinds of reservations, including for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. While the ruling BJP claims credit for the OBC reservation, the Congress blames it for compromising on the quantum of reservation for the OBCs. It argues that the state should have insisted on 27 per cent reservation which is what the Mandal Commission had recommended in the early nineties.
A large section of the OBCs are not happy with the court verdict, as they point out that 14 per cent reservation for the OBCs, which constitute 50 per cent of the total population, does not make sense. There is considerable merit in the argument. For instance, in the previous panchayat and municipal bodies, the OBCs had a representation, larger than the 14 per cent, now reserved for them. In other words, the reservation of 14 per cent is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of such a large section of the population. Now the question is: Is reservation required for the OBCs in any elections? In Madhya Pradesh, the chief minister belongs to the OBC. At least a dozen ministers belong to the OBCs. To put it differently, politics in MP is controlled by the leaders belonging to the OBCs. That is not the case with the SCs and STs, who have their presence thanks to the reservation. They are not politically empowered.
Since any verdict given by the apex court is either applicable to all the states or can be cited by other states to introduce similar laws, Maharashtra can take its own cue from the verdict. Elections to panchayats and municipal bodies are mired in a controversy in the state, as demands have arisen to reserve seats for the OBCs. Of course, there has to be a proper voters’ list based on the “caste status” of the voters. What the Mandal Commission had recommended was reservation for the “socially and educationally backward classes” and it had little to do with caste status, defined religiously. Thus, some sections of the Muslims and the Christians were included among the OBCs. A large section of Sikhs were also included among the OBCs, till the government included them in the Scheduled Caste category. Demands will now arise for reservation for the OBCs in legislative assemblies and Parliament too. This will eventually lead to proportional representation for castes and classes which is not what the founding fathers of the Constitution envisaged when the reservation for SCs and STs was allowed, initially, for 10 years!