The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) draws a lot of support from middle class upper castes Indians; they did not get the benefits of reservation, and the polarization happened out of it in a way that transformed BJP’s political fortunes.

But one must remember the idea of economic reservation was struck down by the Supreme Court soon after the implementation of Mandal Commission report.

Back in the 1990s, the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress government was asked for its stand on the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations by the court and the government maintained the position that not only will we provide for reservation as per the Mandal Commission, we will additionally provide 10% reservation for the economically backward sections.

The Supreme Court in its judgement said that they cannot construct the 10% reservation for economically backward for one simple reason, that the Constitution defines backward as only socially and educationally backward.

The Constitution does not recognize the economic criteria for backwardness, which makes it doubtful whether this move will stand the testimony of the court even if it does become a legislation now.

It is possible if you amend the Constitution. But then it is a different issue. It will also raise a larger question as the Supreme Court has said, that as it is, the reservation cannot exceed 50% of the total quota.

Whether it applies to all castes, all religions—whatever it is, any reservation as per the Supreme Court order cannot exceed 50% of the total, because in the rule of equality reservation is the exemption.

Article 15 guarantees equality (equality of opportunity, no matter what religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, or of any of them, a person belongs to) under the Constitution. The exemption for equality is reservation. If it exceeds 50%, it is a violation of equality as the exemption can never be more than the rule.

The BJP for sure knows that even if it makes a constitutional amendment, the move will be subject to the review of the court. But then, this could be part of an interesting political move; the BJP may show it as their idea but then later say, what to do, the court is not allowing us to do it.

What will be the political fallout?

The upper caste people have already consolidated with the BJP. So there is no question of this move exacting more consolidation. This is basically, very clearly, done to one, retain its support base and, two, further clearly express its pro-poor reach.

It signals that the BJP wants to keep its upper caste vote banks intact. They don’t want segments, which are traditionally being with them to sway away from them, thanks to the efforts of the other parties and by the differences with the segments of voters which are brought in to the BJP.

The BJP is making a very conscious attempt to reach out to the poorer sections of the society, as seen from the pro-poor measures the party has rolled out recently. And given the upper castes form a really strong support base of the BJP, it may act like a concession to those who are part of its existing support base.

It will be interesting to see what stand the Congress will take. I suspect the Congress would say, given the fact that the elections are just three-four months away, let this decision be taken by the government, which will come to power after the elections. My sense is the Congress will be reluctant to bet on either sides.

And of course, the other parties, the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be strongly against this move because it will dilute the whole logic of reservation.

Let’s also not see this move in isolation. Let’s see this in the backdrop of what the BJP has done in Maharashtra with regard to the Maratha agitation, the stand they have taken with regard to the Rajputs in Rajasthan. These are all people who say they want to be declared as backward.

This move may be very well a way to tell those groups that the economically disadvantaged from them would also be benefitted from the reservation.

But the basic question is if the constitution has defined backward as socially or educationally, how do you bring the economic aspect?

Sandeep Shastri is a political analyst, coordinator of public policy think tank Lokniti Network and pro-vice chancellor at Jain University.

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