Lucknow: The process to issue caste certificates to members of the 17 MBCs, which were included in the SC list, could not have come at a more appropriate time in Uttar Pradesh, though the issue was raised for the first time in 2005 and remained mired in controversy.
The move is likely to give the BJP an edge in the upcoming assembly bypolls in 12 constituencies in the state in the wake of several MLAs getting elected to the Lok Sabha in the recent parliamentary elections, say political observers.
The 17 OBC castes that have been included in the Scheduled Caste list are Nishad, Bind, Mallah, Kewat, Kashyap, Bhar, Dhivar, Batham, Machua, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Kahar, Kumhar, Dhimar, Manjhi, Turaha and Gaudia.
A directive issued by the the UP administration says caste certificates will be issued after thorough verification, a move that could steal the opposition's thunder, especially of the SP and the BSP which have tried to sympathise with these 17 Most Backward Classes (MBC) in the past by attempting to bring them in the SC bracket.
These MBC groups constitute nearly 13 per cent of the total backward population in the caste-politics dominated state and can make or mar the electoral prospects of a party or candidate.
The missive was sent to all divisional commissioners and district magistrates by Principal Secretary Manoj Singh instructing them to comply with a 2017 Allahabad High Court order which said caste certificates being issued to people belonging to these 17 categories will be that of Scheduled Caste "subject to outcome of an ongoing writ petition".
The district officials have been asked to start the process of issuing caste certificates to these most backward castes that have been included in the SC list by the Yogi Adityanath government.
The Adityanath government had been trying to put the 17 other backward castes in the SC list for a long time. The reason given was that these castes figured very low on the social and economic indices.
Being in the other backward class category had not improved their standard of living and the objective was to bring them under the SC list.
A senior official explained that the direct advantage of putting them in the SC category will entitle them to reservation quota and other benefits announced by the government from time to time.
Earlier, then SP and BSP governments too had made efforts in this regard, but did not succeed. It was in 2005 that the issue was raised for the first time when the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government had issued an order to this effect.
It was seen as the SP stalwart's ploy to win over the 17 MBCs who felt left out and neglected in the backward quota as the pie went to the creamy layer of the dominant Yadav, Kurmi and Lodhis in government schemes and programmes, as well as admission in educational institutions.
But, the order ran into rough weather when the high court stayed it following which the proposal was sent to the Centre. Two years later, when Mayawati came to power, she rejected the proposal but later wrote to the Centre extending her support.
The Akhilesh Yadav government revived the move again in December 2016 and the proposal was cleared by the state cabinet ahead of the UP Assembly elections.
A formal request to include these 17 castes was sent to the Centre, but the matter somehow got stuck with the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
While hearing a Public Interest Litigation moved by Gorakhpur-based Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Granthalaya Evam Jan Kalyan, which fights for SC rights, challenging the government decision, the court had made it clear that any caste certificate issued will be subject to the outcome of the writ petition.
Scheduled Caste groups apprehend that the move of the Adityanath government might dent their quota as the new entrants would consume their share if their reservation limit was not expanded.