Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is reportedly attempting some rationalisation of social justice in the state. Much of the social justice concept has come to hover around reservations. Adityanath, too, is attempting rationalisation within the rubric of reservations. He is reportedly contemplating two major initiatives. One, he is trying ‘reservations within reservations’ so far as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) are concerned; and, two, he is contemplating transferring 17 castes from OBCs to Scheduled Caste (SC) category. However, these are not his original ideas; both were attempted earlier by Rajnath Singh government in 2001. Even the Akhilesh Yadav government recommended transferring 17 OBCs (Kashyap, Kewat, Batham, Gaur, Kahar, Nishad, Bhar, Bind, Rajbhar, Prajapati, Majhi, Turha, Mallah, Kumhar, Dheemar, Dheevar and Machua) to SC category in December 2016 just before assembly elections in 2017.
One does not know if reservations are the right path to social justice because the way reservations are in existence in the country for the past 70 years, one does not get a sense of the percolation of social justice to the most marginalised and subalterns. However, if we were to accept reservations as means to social justice, one wonders why we are shy of attempting its rationalisation, especially in UP, which is the most populous state in the country. In UP, OBCs form roughly 41 per cent of the population, and are not homogenised because their 79 sub-castes are socially and economically fragmented in three hierarchical categories – backwards (one), more-backwards (eight) and most-backwards (70) (UP Gazette Extraordinary, 15 September 2001). The more-backwards and most-backwards still await the percolation of social justice through reservation or otherwise.
It is really surprising that the Samajwadi Party (SP) that claims to represent the OBCs and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that represents Dalits – both have been opposed to such rationalisation. When the Rajnath Singh government in UP tried such rationalisation in 2001, it was dubbed as communal and a sinister design to split OBCs so much so that one minister in his cabinet Ashok Yadav even moved the Supreme Court obtaining stay against his own government. When Mayawati came to power in 2002, she dumped Singh’s amendments and reverted to the old practice though she had supported Rajnath Singh's move earlier. Strangely, similar rationalisation by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh did not raise any eyebrows. So, why such rationalisation is considered communal and an attempt to split OBCs in UP? Why it is not seen in tune with many other states, which had done it earlier?
It appears that SP and BSP still have illusions of being sole representative of OBCs and Dalits respectively. Mulayam Singh Yadav, as leader of SP, never attempted homogenisation of OBCs; he just remained focused on ‘Yadavisation’, neglecting the more-backwards and most-backwards. That’s the reason that substantial sections of OBCs have shifted to BJP, which has now in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a leader from the backward community. The BJP too has gone proactive in reaching out to them through a strategy of constituency transformation in which it gave tickets to aspirants from more-backwards and most-backwards in proportion to their share in population during 2017 assembly polls in UP, and got them elected thus shunning its earlier tag of 'Brahmin-Bania-upper caste' party.
Mayawati too had been myopic in focusing only on one Dalit caste – Jatavs/Chamars and neglected ati-Dalits that have 65 sub-castes among Dalits. The BJP had been reaching out to them as well with the result that it won 75 out of 85 seats reserved for SCs in 2017 assembly elections. The BJP, now, has a moral responsibility towards this new-found constituency, which looks to the party with optimism to emulate southern states and Maharashtra in making social justice a reality for them in UP too.
Chief Minister Adityanath has an unfinished agenda of his party pending since 2001 when Rajnath Singh as chief minister tried doing that. Now BJP is in commanding position both at the Centre and the state. So, expectations of the subaltern in UP are high. The UP assembly can conveniently pass law and apportion reservations to the various subaltern segments among OBCs in proportion to their share in OBC population.
However, the move to transfer 17 OBCs to SC category may not qualify as rationalisation of social justice as it is enmeshed in twin factors of identity and justice. It is true that these 17 sub-castes have not been getting their due while remaining in OBC category, but transferring them to SC category has no promise for correcting that because in that category, there is domination of Jatavs/Chamars vis-à-vis ati-Dalits (in which category they are likely to be placed) and the latter are deprived of reservation benefits. So, nothing changes for them from that viewpoint.
More importantly, 17 sub-castes in question have a greater problem of identity. Most of them belong neither to OBC not to SC category. Their real destination is scheduled tribes (ST) category. So, unless they are transferred to the STs and reservation is separately allocated for them, their problems will not end. At the moment, their 7.5 per cent share of reservation had been merged with that of SCs, who have developed vested interest in retaining the share earmarked for STs.
Thus, greatest injustice had been done to tribals of UP since Independence. Going by William Crooke The Tribes And Castes of North-Western Provinces and Oudh (1896), before Independence, there were hundreds of tribe castes and sub-castes in UP. When the provision of ST was inserted in the Constitution, the power of identifying them was given to the President of India in consultation with the governors of respective states. It is ironical that the President identified only five tribe castes in UP – Bhotia, Buksa, Jansari, Raji and Tharu – as STs in 1950. But, even that limited ST castes were not counted by the Census of India which recorded zero STs in UP in its count of 1951 and 1961. How could that be? Either the President of India or the Census was wrong.
More, many tribes that were in existence in UP were arbitrarily put either in OBC or SC category as there was no category for non-scheduled tribes. After 52 years of Independence, 17 tribe sub-castes were transferred from SC to ST category by Parliament in 2002-2003, but that too only in 13 districts of eastern UP.
Are we not trying to repeat the same mistake again after 70 years of Independence? Why are we transferring 17 tribes from OBC to SC? Why not do the right thing and transfer them to the ST category, where they really belong to? So, CM Adityanath must consider this and not take a half-baked decision to transfer 17 OBCs to SC category that will give them neither social justice nor identity. As the Union government will be finally responsible for this transfer through parliamentary legislation, the Narendra Modi government must also be vigilant about Adityanath's half-baked initiative.
The right approach to restore social justice to forgotten tribes is to (a) extend the 2002-03 Act to the whole of UP and make 17 SC sub-castes STs throughout UP, (b) make a fresh bid to identify tribes castes and sub-castes wrongly placed in OBC or SC categories, (c) make a serious bid to transfer them all to ST category through a concerted effort of the UP government, National Commission for STs and Union dovernment, and, (d) thereafter, make a fresh Census count in 2021 as their cumulative population in UP is likely to be identical to national average of ST population at 8 per cent and give them their due share of reservation (7.5 per cent) as per the provisions of the Constitution. Should that happen, there is a possibility that UP will have a contingent of about six MPs and 32 MLAs from the ST category. But the big question is: will CM Adityanath do that or he too will be limited to attempting cosmetic social justice in UP?
All this becomes so very important to BJP for the coming Lok Sabha polls in 2019, especially as SP-BSP tie-up for combating BJP has almost become a certainty. While the BJP may panic about this tie-up, especially in the light of the by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur results that saw the BJP lose to the combine, but one must not forget that SP and BSP will face formidable opposition from their own people, who would not be able to contest because of that tie-up, and in all likelihood, they would fall back to either BJP or greatly damage SP-BSP alliance.
More, with the BJP now having a great contingent of OBC and Dalit MPs and MLAs to their side, they are no more strangers to them and can easily make inroads in these communities. With new Ujjwala amendments, Modi has almost won the hearts of Dalits and the weaker sections of the society. One hopes that Adityanath and Modi combine do not panic to go for cosmetic social justice, but attempt real and substantive social justice that would go a long way in correcting historical wrongs to the subalterns in UP.
A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.
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