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President Ram Nath Kovind has formally signed off on the proposal to set up a commission to revisit the OBC quota norms. The Mandal Commission in 1990 had guaranteed 27% reservation for OBCs. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
President Ram Nath Kovind has formally signed off on the proposal to set up a commission to revisit the OBC quota norms. The Mandal Commission in 1990 had guaranteed 27% reservation for OBCs. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

NDA govt appoints Mandal 2.0, to redistribute OBC quota benefits

The government has set up a commission to identify OBC sub-categories on a scientific basis and has asked it to file a report in 12 weeks

New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind has formally signed off on the proposal to set up a commission to revisit the quota norms for other backward classes (OBCs) to ensure a more equitable sharing of the benefits.

The commission, to be chaired by retired Delhi high court chief justice G. Rohini, has been tasked to identify the sub-categories of OBCs on a scientific basis and submit its findings to the government in 12 weeks.

At present, most of the benefits tend to be cornered by dominant OBC communities like the Yadavs. The weaker backward classes have often complained that they have been denied quota benefits because of their weaker socio-economic status.

The move could potentially benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a point to reach out to the less dominant OBC groupings.

If indeed the benefits—like reservations in central government jobs and admissions in central government institutions—are shared, parties like the Samajwadi Party, dominated by the Yadavs, could potentially see their electoral hold weakening.

The wheel has turned a full circle almost. In 1990, the then government headed by Prime Minister V.P. Singh had implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, which guaranteed 27% reservation for OBCs.

It was a watershed moment in Indian politics. Not only did subsequent developments end the political domination of the Congress, but it also created space for regional leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav to win political power. Alongside it also led to the emergence of BJP, riding a Hindutva ideology, as an key political force.

The terms of references of the new commission include examining the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the central list of OBCs, working out the modalities for sub-categorization within OBCs and identifying and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.

Significantly, BJP has over the last three years, made considerable efforts to reach out to the OBCs. In fact, under PM Modi, BJP has tried to redefine the social base of the party.

BJP, which was traditionally considered to be an urban party with the trading class as its main support base, is now making efforts to widen its electoral base and consequently its appeal.

“The step is important as it addresses the question of who should be the key beneficiary of reservation, for instance among the MBCs (most backward classes). When we look at the role of the OBC community in elections, we see that MBCs might be numerically smaller but their vote tends to be more decisive. Another takeaway from this decision is that it will bring the economic question in from the backdoor. The economic and social angle in reservation will be considered a criteria. This will further help settle the reservation issues with the Jats, Marathas and Patels," Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst said, adding that this is “definitely building up to 2019," when the next general election is due.

A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College, concurred.

“It will definitely give the BJP electoral advantage but there is no direct electoral connection...The concept of reservation in proportion to population has been implemented in many states like Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka and now that the BJP is in power, it wants to do the same at the national level."

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