Given how it was done just a few months before the general elections last year, it was always obvious the UPA’s decision to include Jats in the central list of OBCs was nothing but a cynical ploy to gather votes. Hardly surprising, then, that the Supreme Court should strike it down since the National Commission for Backward Castes (NCBC) was not in favour of it—the NCBC was set up following the Indra Sawhney judgment as a specialised body to look into complaints of non-inclusion or wrong inclusion of OBCs. The NCBC found that the Jats were not educationally or socially backward, nor did they have inadequate representation in public employment—the NCBC said that just because the Jats were an agricultural community did not make them eligible for an OBC tag. But since the government was determined to go ahead, the Cabinet meeting in March 2014 said the NCBC had not adequately taken into account the ‘ground realities’.
The larger issue, as the SC said, was that the percentage of OBCs ‘certainly much have gone up considerably as over the last two decades there has been only inclusions in the Central as well as state OBC lists and hardly any exclusion therefrom. This is certainly not what has been envisaged in our Constitutional Scheme’. Indeed, once successive governments made it clear they were going to give more benefits to OBCs, their numbers grew rapidly—while 36% of the population was listed as OBC in the 1999-00 NSS survey, this rose to 41% in 2004-05. Indeed, there is little case for advocating increased reservations since there are enough studies showing it is economic growth that, more than anything else, has resulted in poverty levels falling for each caste group. Also, as FE columnist Surjit Bhalla found from the 1999-00 NSS round, while Hindu OBCs comprised 32.1% of the population, they had only 24.2% of what the NSS categorised as professional jobs—but that didn’t have anything to do with discrimination, it had to do with the fact that OBCs were just 25.9% of those who had passed high school. In other words, the problem lay in the high school dropout ratios, not anywhere else. Analysis of the data from NCAER’s all-India survey for 2004-05 reinforced this—even in the case of an upper caste Hindu household, the annual income rose from R27,650 when the head of the household was illiterate to R135,535 when he was a graduate.
If, despite all of this, the government decides to challenge the SC ruling it would be unfortunate since, more than anything else, the Narendra
Modi victory demonstrated that growth-based politics triumphed over caste-based politics. A CSDS-Lokniti post-election poll had showed that when it came to a choice between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the former won 55:11 among the upper castes, 38:13 among the upper OBCs and 46:11 among the lower OBCs; 35:18 among the STs and 29:14 for the SCs. Indeed, had caste-based politics been as important a factor as it is made out to be, caste-warriors like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Mayawati would not have fared as badly as they did in the last elections. Voters trumped economic growth over caste, the BJP shouldn’t lose sight of that.