A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recommended in February to raise the family income criteria for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from Rs8 lakh to Rs12 lakh per annum, but the Modi government put it on hold for rollout when Bihar is getting ready for the Assembly poll in November.
OBCs constitute 41% of Bihar's population with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar seen as their representative and hence excluding the parents with the income of over Rs12 lakh as "creamy layer" would be a sort of the poll bonanza for the poor and middle class OBCs to have a better chance of getting the benefit of 27% OBC reservation that was otherwise cornered away by the well to do OBCs.
The GoM's recommendation has been dusted out for the Union Cabinet decision very shortly. To ensure the rural OBCs get a better advantage over their urban counterparts, Rajnath Singh insisted on redefining the income criteria to include the salary in calculating the annual income. The agriculture income, as in the past, will be excluded in the calculations to give further advantage to the rural OBCs. Home Minister Amit Shah, Road & MSME Minister Nitin Gadkari, Agriculture Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot and MoS V Muralidharan were other members of the GoM.
The National Commission for Backward Classes was opposed to inclusion of the salary in calculating the parents' income for the reservation, but Rajnath convinced it that the salary inclusion will give advantage to the rural masses as there is hardly any salary component in their income. Most of the OBCs are farmers and so keeping out the agricultural income from the calculations will give a big advantage to the farmers' children.
EYE ON LS POLLS: Though the Census exercise has been delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government would also announce in the Bihar elections that the OBCs will be counted in the 2021 Census to know their exact percentage in the population since the OBC reservation was worked out by the Mandal Commission on the basis of the dated Census of 1931. It may take advantage of the Census to fiddle with changes in the percentage of reservation to various categorises of OBC, SC and ST just before Lok Sabha poll in 2023 to get votes of OBCs high in terms of their percentage in the population.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar early this year got the PM’s promise to conduct the OBC count in the Census, pointing out that their number is much more than 27% as the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) had estimated their strength in the country in 2007 at 40.94% as against the Scheduled Castes numbering 19.59% and Scheduled Tribes 8.63%.
Though the Census results will be available only by the end of 2022, they will give a handle to the OBC protagonists to insist on raising the reservation to the OBCs if their percentage in the population is high by cutting down the quota of the SCs and STs. Today, the SCs enjoy 15% quota and the STs 7.5%. The Modi government, which has time and again tried to curtail the advantages to SCs though without success, will take advantage to woo the OBCs having higher percentage of the population in the 2023 LS election.