Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters

Elections 2019: Modi govt woos upper castes with 10% reservation

The upper caste reservation comes amid election losses for the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and follows quota agitations by Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government has decided to grant 10% reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category, especially upper castes that is core voter base of the party. The decision has been taken with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

While the final contours of the reservation is yet to be made public, according to people aware of the developments, “weaker section beneficiaries would include those earning less than 8 lakh annually, own less than 5 hectares of agricultural land, residential property of less than 1,000 sq. feet and a residential plot that is less than 109 sq. yards in a notified municipality and 209 sq. yards in a non-notified municipality".

The decision is mainly an attempt to address the concerns of the upper castes who have been annoyed by its recent move to restore the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

“My compliments to PM and his cabinet for giving approval to 10% reservation in jobs & higher education to economically backward persons in the general category. This shall provide much-needed push to the aspirations of this class of people," Himanta Biswa Sarma, senior BJP leader and minister in the Assam government, tweeted on Monday.

The BJP had to face the ire of upper caste in the recently concluded assembly elections, particularly in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it lost power to arch rival Congress. The elections—it also lost Chhattistarh—are the first examples of an upper caste backlash in assembly elections since the BJP-led government took over at the centre.

Senior BJP leaders argue that the decision is aimed at widening the social justice net to enable more people from different backgrounds to benefit from government jobs and education.

“We have received several reports and feedback that people, especially youth, felt that they were not part of the social justice net of the government. The idea to allow reservations for economically weaker sections would allow different communities, who are otherwise facing financial trouble, to benefit," said a senior BJP leader aware of the development.

BJP leaders also point out that in the last four years of the ruling at the centre, different communities have led agitations demanding reservations, including Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat, and Marathas in Maharashtra. All three states are ruled by the BJP and their governments had to face the ire of these communities.

“This decision should address the demands of Patels, Marathas and Jats in a way. There is a genuine concern among members of the upper caste who are not financially stable, the government is duty-bound to address the concerns of the upper castes," the BJP leader added.

BJP leaders explained that there was a growing sentiment within the upper castes that the BJP government was only working for socially weaker sections to win elections and that the party was not protecting the rights of the communities that helped it win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“We were being seen as a party which was trying to change its social base by forgetting about the demands of its core voters. This decision would neutralize the sentiment that the BJP no longer cares for the its core constituency. It is difficult to ascertain whether this decision would benefit the party in the long run," said a senior BJP leader from Lucknow said.

A leading Dalit thinker and writer questioned the moral basis of the decision.

“This is a morally flawed decision of the BJP government and it is aimed to create confusion within society. Dalits and tribals were given reservation because they have faced social boycott. There is no such social boycott against upper caste people They do not have to struggle to go to schools, colleges or to find jobs," said Chandra Bhan Prasad.

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