Keeping in mind the saffron shocker in Panchayat polls in 2017, the ruling BJD today displays its low confidence as the party latched on to an emotive thread to pull a victory at the hustings in the coming rural polls.
In order to strike a responsive chord, the ruling BJD toed the tried and tested Bihar and UP political formula when it announced a 27 per cent reservation for socially backward classes among BJD candidates for contesting the rural polls scheduled to be held in 2022.
BJD's Mandal Politics
After winning the State Assembly in 2019, the party seems to have picked up the emotive backward card to keep its crown safe. As per political observers, during its two-decade-long tenure, BJD has exhausted all popular schemes to entice voters. With no more vote-magnet left in its political basket, the party seems to be weaving the OBC thread to secure its winner cap intact. Consider the following.
- January 11, 2020: Odisha cabinet presided by CM Naveen Patnaik passed a resolution demanding caste-based enumeration in the Census 2021.
- February 12, 2020: The Odisha government constituted Odisha State Commission for Backward Classes (OSCBC). The 5-member commission has been set up under the chairmanship of Justice Raghunath Biswal, former Orissa HC judge.
- The commission for backward castes has recently announced that it would begin a survey of backward classes in the State based on the social and educational status from May 1 and publish the final list in June.
- August 11, 2021: BJD Parliamentary delegation met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and demanded a Central Law to remove the 50 per cent cap on quotas in jobs and education.
- August 13, 2021: While the final list is yet to see the light of the day, the BJD decided to implement OBC reservation ticket distribution during panchayat polls.
Is BJD Clever By Half?
At present Odisha is among a handful of states in the country that didn't implement Mandal Commission in toto in the State. The reservation for OBCs in the jobs and education sector in the State is only 11.25 per cent. Odisha gives 16.25 per cent reservation for SCs and 22.5 per cent for STs. In order to adhere to the SC judgement on a 50 per cent cap on quotas, the State could earmark only 11 per cent for OBCs.
Is Central Law Necessary? As per constitutional norms, there is no need for a central law. Odisha can go the TN and Karnataka way to provide reservations to OBCs.
Moreover, states can have their own SEBC list too. When in its judgement on the Maratha quota, the Apex court had observed that there should be only one Central list of SEBCs and states are not empowered to have their own separate SEBS list. The court relied on the 102 Constitutional Amendment Act 2018. But the Union Government has recently enacted the 127 Constitutional Amendment Act 2021 and restored the power to the states.
In the above constitutional safeguards available with the State government, putting the onus on Centre by BJD seems only a clever by half act.
OBC Card May Open Pandora's Box for BJD
Political observers are of the opinion that while BJD has pulled out the OBC card from its hat to build a narrative in the rural polls. However, they feel it may prove a double-edged sword for the ruling entity if the opposition decides to take the bull by horns and make OBC reservation in jobs a poll issue. Reports show OBCs in Odisha have the highest unemployment rate.