BJP and Congress Spar ahead of Final HC Hearing on Tuesday

While the assembly elections are a good two years away, the subject of reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has started resonating in Madhya Pradesh’s politics with the state high court due to conduct a final hearing on July 13 on petitions pertaining to the matter. State Congress chief Kamal Nath, who has his eyes set not only on the 2023 elections but some bypolls coming up as well, had on July 8 tweeted that he had proposed to hike the OBC quota in the state to 27% in 2019 when he was the chief minister, blaming the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for not making any sincere efforts to implement it.

A Supreme Court verdict says that the total percentage of reservation offered on the basis of caste cannot be over 50%. Raising the OBC quota to 27% would mean the total reservation provided in Madhya Pradesh would reach 73%.

The former CM alleged that some petitions were filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court against reservation, but due to lack of proper defence by the government, the increased quota has not been implemented yet. If the government puts its case strongly, the backward classes of Madhya Pradesh will get the benefit of 27 per cent reservation, he said.

The Congress leader stated that his party’s government in 2003 had implemented this reservation. The matter, however, remained in court for 10 years after the Shivraj government came to power and, in the end, the reservation was nullified due to the weak defence put up by the administration, he said.

Nath urged the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh to “renounce its anti-backward class mentality and cooperate in social justice”.

BJP’s rebuttal

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was quick to retaliate the next day, calling the OBC quota issue Kamal Nath’s sin. The Congress has caused the maximum damage to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and OBCs, he alleged.

“Kamal Nath as chief minister had issued an ordinance on OBC quota and later also got the matter stayed in court,” Chouhan said. If the Congress leader were a true sympathiser of the backward classes, he would have got it implemented properly but he was only pretending, the CM added. “Nath knew reservation wasn’t possible. His intent was faulty; so were his policies.”

The Narendra Modi government at the Centre implemented various schemes by giving constitutional status to the OBC commission, said BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal. “After Independence, the backward classes got the highest place in the Modi cabinet. Congress leaders should tell in which states they gave 27% reservation to OBCs,” he asked.

State minister Bhagat Singh Kushwaha also took aim at the Congress on the quota issue. During a press briefing, he said that the Congress post-Independence only offered lip service to the backward classes while the BJP has delivered on the ground. He expressed gratitude towards PM Narendra Modi for accommodating 27 OBC ministers in his cabinet that saw a reshuffle last week.

Sources also said that the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit is planning to publicise the fact of the OBCs getting significant representation in the union cabinet.

Political wrangle

A dominant class in terms of population (at around 50%), the OBCs take centre stage whenever polls are around. It was the same in the previous assembly elections in 2018 when the anti-reservation outfit Samanya Alpsankhyak Pichhra Varg Kalyan Sangh (SAPAKS) had polarised the general and OBC categories against Chouhan’s famous remark that no one could dare touch quotas.

Strong anti-quota sentiments had dented the BJP on several seats especially in the Gwalior-Chambal region.

Chouhan himself is an OBC poster boy for the BJP, like CM Bhupesh Baghel in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh.

Away from the political bickering, the Madhya Pradesh high court is also due to take up the final hearing on various petitions filed for and against the 27% OBC quota issue on July 13.

Petitioners have pleaded before the court why the quota should be quashed while the state government has justified it on the basis of the OBC population.

Legal experts, however, believe that the Congress decision of hiking the OBC quota from 14% to 27% was just a political gimmick.

Advocate Aditya Sanghi who was among the first petitioners who approached the HC against the hiked quota told News18 that basic legal illustrations of the Constitution and the Supreme Court of India don’t agree with the attempts of implementing an increased OBC quota. As far as the state government’s plea is concerned, it no longer holds ground after the SC’s verdict on the Maratha reservation in Maharashtra, said Sanghi.

The verdict clearly states that under no circumstances can reservation be offered on the basis of population, he said.

Advocate Rameshwar Thakur told the media that after the Census carried out in 1931, caste-based data wasn’t ever released. He said that many states are offering 27% OBC reservation but backward classes in MP are devoid of this.

During the hearing of this case, the state government last month had revealed the caste-based Census data before the HC. Quoting the statistics from the 2011 Census, the MP government said that OBCs constitute 50.09% of the population in the state, followed by STs (21.1%) and SCs (15.6%). State capital Bhopal has the highest OBC population of 63.14%.

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