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Strange bedfellows: Modi and Nitish on reservation, caste census issues

Strange bedfellows: Modi and Nitish on reservation, caste census issues

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried his best to taunt the opposition and the Congress while responding to Rahul Gandhi's attack on the BJP during the motion of thanks discussion on the President's speech in the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha. One of them was that the Congress party, which could not reach a three-digit mark in the third consecutive election, was creating alliances with other parties for strength. The paradox in this is that Modi during his mockery had forgotten his own experience of BJP's missing the mark with mere 240 seats and reaching the magic number of 272 by roping in small parties. The main strength of the NDA front is the TDP in Andhra Pradesh with 16 seats and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-U in Bihar with 12 seats. But when it comes to major issues of the time, JDU and BJP have differing approaches, mainly on two subjects related to backward castes in Bihar. One of them is caste census, and the second is opposition to the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation. If even after knowing this, Nitish joined the alliance, he is unlikely to sit comfortably with the BJP, as indicated by the Bihar government's decision to approach the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court ruling that quashed the 65 per cent reservation citing the Supreme Court verdict putting that ceiling.

It is a long-pending demand and argument for reservation proportionate to the population in Bihar, where the backward classes are in large majority and a caste census is necessary to gather the caste-wise population data and employment ratio. Bihar's current ruling party, the JDU, and its former ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have paved the path for that - lbeit with minor complaints. The Patna High Court dismissed the petitions against that caste census, asking how the benefits of the state can be fairly distributed without caste-based statistics. On the other hand, the BJP has always opposed the caste census. Will the JDU leadership led by Nitish Kumar be able to correct that position of its current ally, the BJP? If not, what compromise will Nitish and his associates would have made in this regard?

The second major issue that could cause a rift in the NDA front is the Bihar government's own steps to increase backward reservation and bypass the Supreme Court order that reservation should not exceed 50 percent of the total. In the landmark Indra Sawhney case of 1992, a 6-3 majority verdict of the nine-member bench of the Supreme Court put a cap of 50% of the total for reservation. Bypassing the verdict, the first NDA government in January 2019 introduced and passed a Bill in Parliament to allow 10 per cent reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). About forty petitions that came before the Supreme Court questioning this were considered by the Supreme Court after years of delay and finally the verdict was issued in 2022. It may also be noted that it was a five-judge bench in 1922, with a narrow majority of 3-2 that rejected the crucial 50 per ceiling principle dictated by the nine-judge bench, after a long and thorough consideration of the various related issues, while also dismissing other objections to the EWS quota.

In 2022, the court had said that the limit of 50 percent reservation in the Indra Sawhney verdict is applicable only to the reservation for the backward classes and the verdict is not applicable to the reservation of the categories outside of it and that even the cap of 50 percent can be relaxed in exigent circumstances. In view of these circumstances, the state government of Bihar filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday against the Patna High Court verdict which cancelled 65 per cent reservation. Bihar implemented additional reservations from 18 per cent to 25 per cent for EBCs, from 12 to 18 per cent for BCs, from 16 to 20 per cent for Scheduled Castes and from 1 to 2 per cent for Scheduled Tribes. This increase was on the basis of the caste survey finding that these sections constitute 65 per cent of the population. Although it is not certain that there will be an opportunity to clarify BJP's position on this issue in the court, in the last election campaign, Modi and his allies made communally provocative remarks about the reservation given to Muslims. That criticism was made under the guise of 'based on religion'. It was hiding the fact that the backwardness of Muslims was due to historical positions they took based on religious beliefs. It is a question mark how long the BJP and JDU will be able to be together on the backward community issues. Not only the JDU, but the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, which also has tried to increase the reservation percentage, will also have to face the BJP on the same issue.

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TAGS:BJPReservationJDUEditorialcaste census
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