New Delhi: A caste-based census, removal of the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation and a separate ministry for the OBC were some of the demands raised by the Opposition during a debate on the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021.
The bill, which was introduced Monday, was adopted with a two-third majority in the Lok Sabha Tuesday and empowers states and Union Territories to identify and notify their own lists of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The bill also, significantly, forged a rare unity in Parliament between opposition parties and the Narendra Modi government in the ongoing monsoon session, which has otherwise been a washout due to continuous disruptions by the Opposition.
The demand for a caste-based census was a primary demand that was raised by opposition leaders and BJP allies, including Janata Dal (United) and Apna Dal, alike.
JD(U) leader Chandeshwar Prasad voiced support for the bill but maintained that a caste census should be conducted. “Our leader Nitish Kumar has already made his views on caste-based census and his intent quite clear,” he said.
Rajiv Ranjan ‘Lalan’ Singh, another JD(U) MP, also stressed the need for the census, noting that the population of all communities have gone up and it is important to know their exact population.
Meanwhile, Apna Dal leader Anurpiya Patel, who is also the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, noted that there was no clear data on backward communities, which is imperative to take policy decisions and prepare programmes for them.
Other parties such as the Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress Party and the Biju Janata Dal also called for a caste-based census.
Spectre of Uttar Pradesh polls, 50% reservation cap
During the course of the debate, several opposition leaders linked the passage of the bill to the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Dayanidhi Maran, an MP from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), said he hoped the UP elections came every year and also highlighted Tamil Nadu’s role in recognising the concerns of the backward classes.
“Who pushed V.P. Singh out for implementing the Mandal Commission? It was the BJP and we will never forget it. Where is the caste-based census? 27 ministers are OBC in BJP, why? Because of the UP elections. I hope UP elections come every year!” said Maran.
While extending support for the bill, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also taunted the Modi government for playing vote-bank politics and questioned why the government was only supporting a few backward classes by not doing away with the 50 per cent cap on reservations.
“Why is the Modi government not able to do away with the 50 per cent ceiling. Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya? Tod dijiye 50 per cent ceiling ko. Aapki mohabbat OBC se nahi, unke vote se hai (Break the 50 per cent ceiling. You don’t love OBCs, but their votes),” he said.
The AIMIM leader further referred to the reservations provided to the Muslim community in Telangana, which is not recognised by the central government. There is a 4 per cent quota for Muslims in the job and education sector in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
He demanded that the 1950 presidential order, which give SCs reservation, should be made religion-neutral so that Muslims can also benefit from it. A number of MPs also, similarly, spoke about reservation for Christians.
“Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena all talk about the Maratha reservation but don’t forget Muslims have also been deprived but you don’t speak on that,” he added.
Akhilesh Yadav’s stance on bill
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav also cited the 50 per cent cap on reservations and noted that it was indicative of the Modi government’s anti-reservation stance.
“For your convenience, you are getting a Central Vista constructed so that you can ensure it can accommodate more members comfortably. But at the same time, you want to accommodate all the OBCs, Dalits and minorities under 50 per cent. You are playing with reservation,” he said.
Yadav, too, pitched for a caste-based census and said that if the present government fails to do so, the Samajwadi Party will undertake the exercise once it comes to power after the upcoming polls in UP.
“You promised an OBC CM in the state before elections. But finally who was made a CM? Merely making a few OBC and SC ministers will not help the cause. Don’t forget you came to power because of the support from the backward class. You should also make the caste census data public,” said Yadav.
The Congress, too, supported the bill but pointed out that several states want to increase the ceiling of reservation.
“You (BJP government) had a majority so you assumed you could do whatever you wished. But soon after the states started raising their voices you realised you had made a mistake. With assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand around the corner you decided to bring this bill. Though we support the bill, we also want the 50 per cent ceiling to be removed. This is a demand that has been made by Maharashtra too,” said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Reservation in private sector
Several MPs also spoke in favour of reservation in the private sector, including Bahujan Samaj Party MP Ritesh Pandey.
“In modern India, the importance of reservation is being reduced. In Uttar Pradesh, most of the jobs are contractual and private, so how will you implement this reservation? You are simply trying to mislead the people. You are reducing government jobs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Social Welfare Minister Veerendra Kumar thanked all MPs for supporting the bill and said that the intent of the government is reflected in its decision to enable states to make their backward class list.
“As far as the issue of the 50 per cent ceiling is concerned, the government is of the view that it should be discussed at length. However, as the Supreme Court has reiterated this ceiling it requires careful consideration on legal and constitutional aspects,” he said.
(Edited by Rachel John)
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