Disquiet in Samajwadi Party over Congress’s sudden posturing on OBCs and caste census?
The Congress’s cosying up to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is being perceived as causing some unease among the INDIA alliance’s regional partners.
The Congress’s cosying up to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is being perceived as causing some unease among the INDIA alliance’s regional partners--the parties that primarily have OBCs among their core vote bank in their respective states.
For instance in Uttar Pradesh, which has an estimated over 40% to 45% OBC population, the Samajwadi Party (SP) was surprised at a sudden new posturing of the national party that had hitherto kept itself away from the OBC politics.
So much so that SP national president Akhilesh Yadav, while responding to Congress speaking about OBCs and demanding caste census, said in Rewa in Madhya Pradesh a couple of days ago: “Congress talking of caste census is nothing short of miracle in Indian politics”.
But as his remark sounded snide, Akhilesh quickly attempted to sound it as a complimentary one by adding: “Nothing could give more joy than the fact that now the Congress talks of caste census and chose to tread the socialists’ path.”
While Akhilesh made the comments on Wednesday (September 27), senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pitched for the nationwide caste census in Chhattisgarh on Monday (September 25), saying “the Indian government was being run by secretaries and cabinet secretaries and not by MPs or MLAs, and out of 90 of them (bureaucrats) in the Modi government, only three were from the OBCs.” Both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will go to polls in the year-end.
“The Congress seems to have realised the value of OBCs in the country now. Otherwise, it was the party that was opposed to the ‘Mandal’,” said professor Sudhir Panwar, a socialist thinker.
The Mandal Commission or the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC) was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai. The commission headed by BP Mandal had submitted its report in 1980. The National Front government led by VP Singh implemented it in 1990 giving 27% reservation in jobs to OBCs. The Congress government in between did not implement the commission’s report.
Professor Sudhir Panwar, however, dismissed that the Congress’s overture to OBCs would bring any advantage or disadvantage to the post-Mandal political parties such as the Samajwadi Party or the Janata Dal (United).
“These parties have OBCs as their core vote and the leaders of these parties had struggled for the implementation of the Mandal commission report, while the Congress was against it,” said Panwar.
SP national spokesperson Ameeque Jamei said: “It was socialist parties like the Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav or the Samyukta Socialist Party led by Ram Manohar Lohia that got downtrodden women like Phoolan Devi (of UP) to the Parliament and Bhagwati Devi (of Bihar) to the Bihar assembly. SP is the original ‘social justice’ party. The SP is not insecure about the Congress making OBC or caste census chorus. And socialists, be it Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia or and Mulayam, always tried to nudge the Congress towards socialism.”
Talking about heightened OBC politics and ‘vote banks’ of political parties over the decades, Prof Panwar said: “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was successful in capturing traditional voters of Congress-urban middle class and upper caste like Brahmin, Thakur, Kayastha etc in U.P. and a percentage of OBCs from Samajwadi Party...Akhilesh Yadav was successful in regaining its other backward caste votes from the BJP in 2022 assembly elections as was evident by a vote share of 32%.”
He further said, “The success of the INDIA alliance in U.P. depends on the extent of success by the Congress in regaining its core voters from the BJP. Targeting the OBC votes by Congress may strengthen OBC-related demands but not in the increment of votes specifically in U.P.” “So the winning strategy of INDIA alliance needs to be crafted to target the traditional core voters of the Congress and regain them from the BJP,” he added.
Professor SK Dwivedi, a political analyst and former head, the political science department at Lucknow University, said: “It is natural that the SP would have some discomfort if the Congress manages to capitalise on the OBCs. The two parties would benefit whenever they contest elections together as it would strengthen their OBC politics’ firepower but whenever—in the long run—they are not in alliance in an election, the Congress’s engaging in OBC policies would harm the SP and will benefit the BJP. The Congress woke up late to the OBC politics. The BJP is already thickly into it.”
Former Uttar Pradesh Congress president Brijlal Khabri claims that soon after he took over the UPCC president, he had launched a statewide backward classes conference and campaign demanding a caste census. He said: “What would happen in the long run—which party would benefit or which one would be a loser—doesn’t matter as of now. It is the need of the hour that all (opposition) parties should join hands and struggle for a common cause. We have to look at the challenges today.”