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Conspicuous silence of political parties on OBC reservation issues in North India.

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

June 25th, 2021 marked the 90th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister V P Singh but went unnoticed by the majority of the leaders who benefitted from his politics and goodwill generated by him. Except for Tejashvi Yadav who remembered Singh mentioning his bold initiative to implement Mandal Commission Report, there was no other north Indian leader, particularly from OBCs to remember Singh.

Unlike north India, Tamilnadu’s politicians across party lines respected Singh. The first tweet came in the morning from Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Mr M K Stalin writing a tweet in Tamil language and putting a photograph of V P Singh along with Dr M Karunanidhi, former chief minister of Tamilnadu.

The aim here is not to portray V P Singh as an OBC leader but the politics of parties that claim to be ‘representing’ the community but the issues of rights of the OBCs and why the central government today is having an easy way to bypass the interest of OBC students and government servants.

Why has the issue of denial of justice to OBCs in general not become the agenda of the parties claiming to have the legacy need to be analysed as the risks are too big now when BJP has got a big chunk of votes from all the communities.

Is VP Singh being ignored because the north Indian politicians do not want to associate with his ‘legacy’, the legacy of Mandal Commission Report?

There is a similarity between Bihar and Tamilnadu’s leadership speaking on the issue and it has been consistent since 1990. Both Karunanidhi and Lalu Prasad Yadav had been the biggest supporters of the Mandal Commission Report and the then prime minister V P Singh.

Mulayam Singh Yadav was on the wrong side in 1990 along with Devi Lal when they broke away with Janata Dal and formed a new political party under the leadership of late prime minister Chandra Shekhar.

It was said that V P Singh ‘suddenly’ took the decision to ‘checkmate’ Devi Lal’s revolt against him but these are just lies spread by political opponents to counter the importance of the Mandal Commission report as well as the well-planned decision of the government which was part of Janata Dal’s election manifesto.

V P Singh had formed a committee under the chair of Devi Lal in January 1990 for the implementation process of the Mandal Commission Report but he did nothing. Ultimately, the responsibility fell on Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, who must be termed as a hero of the Mandal movement at that time.

Mandal made V P Singh one of the most hated politicians of our times.

Political pundits, Savarna experts, students all condemned him and declared him as the biggest villain of our polity. Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs, Bhumihars, Kayasthas abused him while OBC leadership was not ready to accept his contribution. That was the irony.  The question was whether VP was important or not was the issue but Mandal and OBC issues were important.

Mandal Revolution

Mandal brought a big revolution in Indian polity. It jolted the upper caste dominance in polity and now OBC leaders got huge opportunities as they started asserting. Mandal was not merely ‘job reservation’ but it changed the political culture and that is why both UP and Bihar, the two most important states of Hindi heartland never saw Savarna chief minister after 1989. While Bihar successfully became the political domain of the OBCs, Uttar Pradesh had a strong Dalit assertion too and hence contradictions between them and OBCs were used extraordinarily by the Hindutva forces which resulted in power gone to Yogi Adityanath. 

OBC reservation issue got diluted with the emergence of P V Narsimha Rao as prime minister in 1991. He depended more on Atal Bihari Vajpayee and BJP than any other senior leader of his party or former colleagues. The privatisation process began during his corrupt government and then taken forward by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When the UPA government took over under Dr Man Mohan Singh it continued with the old process initiated by Narsimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Though there was a ‘National Advisory Council’ formed by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in which a number of ‘named-famed’ ‘activists’ were included to advise her, the government continued aggressively with the privatisation process and systematic land grabbing.

The only face-saving at that time was MNREGA as well as later state Forest Rights Act and Right to Information Act. All these were great but in terms of jobs and land, the issues of Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis were always on the margin.

HRD Minister Arjun Singh was a different man in the Ministry. He focussed on OBC reservation in higher education and thus faced a lot of pressure from the Congress party. Arjun Singh was the leader who fought within the party and outside to secularise the curriculum as well as provide reservations for OBCs. Congress never learnt its lesson from that mistake that Rajiv Gandhi made in 1990. If he had supported V P Singh instead of Chandra Shekhar, I can bet, Congress would have not become redundant as it is fast becoming because of the deep distrust of the marginalised sections.

Mandal silenced

As the UPA came back to power again in 2009, analysts ‘felt’ that it was the victory of MNREGA and hence Congress went aggressively on Land Acquisition issues only to face deep protests against it in different parts of the country. By the time of UPA-II, Congress’s Brahmanical leaders ensured that OBCs are side-lined and the reservation issue is diluted to gain ‘acceptance’ of the savannas. 

Congress was aggressive. By 2009, the Mandal leadership of most of the parties in the country had surrendered or were completely defeated though in terms of representation OBCs were the most powerful chunk yet to gain acceptance among the Savarnas these OBC leaders too were keen to let off the issue of ‘reservations and agrarian reforms.

In 2011 Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption plank further stole the whole issue of social justice and made it virtually meaningless as the OBC leaders were not fully prepared to counter this onslaught not merely on their rights but also on the Indian constitution. Anna was promoted by ‘liberals’ as well as both left and right netas who were looking for new opportunities for their age-old ‘dreams’ to be ‘part’ of the ‘power’.  Unfortunately, the Dalit Bahujan leaders of the country too fell prey to the RSS plant.

Anna’s movement had nothing to do with corruption and everything to do with derailing the social justice plank particularly reservations as most of the leaders who emerged after the protests like Arvind Kejriwal, V K Singh, Kiran Bedi and so on were known to be anti-reservation, though Kejriwal has changed the stand after becoming the chief minister of Delhi yet the fact remain that the party’s main strength is the middle class that hate reservations, except where they can buy the same as well as social justice.

Rise of Modi and demise of Mandal

Anna’s movement was ultimately responsible for not merely the downfall of ‘Congress’ but the unprecedented ‘faith’ of people in Narendra Modi and BJP. Unlike Congress, BJP became an ‘expert’ on multi-pronged strategies and hence it projected Narendra Modi as an OBC and made deep inroads among all the communities though ‘cultural’ linkages. The common thread built up as a ‘non-Muslim’ identity which actually went well with all.

Among OBCs local contradictions were used, apart from putting faces from these communities such as Kushwahas, Nishads, Lodhs, Kurmis in Uttar Pradesh. It gave big importance to Ram Vilas Paswan, who was despised both by Lalu Yadav as well as Nitish Kumar resulting in his open association with the saffron party.

Modi government’s policies have unambiguously reflected two clear indications: a. massive privatisation b. curtailing government jobs c. backdoor entry of the savarnas everywhere right from civil services to universities.

Since 2014, the Modi government has systematically targeted NGOs, civil society organisations that were working for land, forest, environmental issues particularly relating to the rights of the Dalits and Adivasis over the natural resources. Then it targeted Universities that were vocal seeking rights of students related to reservation, fees, scholarships, libraries, better hostel facilities and so on. Important among them were JNU, Delhi University, Hyderabad Central University, Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and many others. Nobody can match demagoguery more than Narendra Modi and his government. They do the exact opposite of what they speak in public. All through his campaign Narendra Modi and BJP shouted atop about his ‘OBC’ status and yet all these years it clearly indicates how his government has successfully diluted the reservation issue. In each sector of our governance, it is the dominance of Savarnas and their ‘rehabilitation’, though they were never ‘replaced’ yet a few jobs to SC-ST-OBCs here or there too have been snatched away from them. To stop more and more people from the margins to come upto the top level, entries are closed.

To maintain the Brahmanical hegemony intact, back door entry in the name of ‘professionalism’ has happened and the powerful civil services did not object to it. The persistent onslaught on every institution and its autonomy has been the hallmark of the government’s ‘achievements’ but how the Brahmanical bureaucracy ‘enjoyed’ it can be seen in their absolute silence. Most of them have got the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.

The OBC leaders were given symbolic positions and in the rural hinterland ‘empowerment’ is considered a few seats to the community leaders.

The whole debate of community empowerment has thus been abused by placating a few ‘ambitious’ leaders who would maintain complete silence on the issues related to their communities. Thus, reservation for OBCs has never been on the agenda of their leaders. Of course, for their people, they will say that we will provide reservation to communities but none of them ever speak against the complete denial of justice to OBCs in the government jobs. None of them ever questioned how the civil services are being filled through the backdoor entry. None of them ever raised the question of farmers’ protests despite the known fact that current farmers’ movements include a large number of OBCs.

Why OBC leaders keeping quiet on the issue

The problem is that nobody wants to claim to be representative of their community. As their parties are ‘state’ ‘regional’ or ‘national’ parties these leaders need ‘Brahmanical minds’ to come back to power and most of them depend on ‘professional advisers’, senior journalists etc, a majority of them hailing from the Savarna community and suffering from highly anti-reservation mindset but for power, you need the outreach hence most of the leaders today take their community for granted and go outreach others. An ideal situation would have been in Uttar Pradesh that all the OBCs, Dalits, minorities, farmers and other progressive (if any) join together to fight against the oppressive system but it is a pipe dream now. Both BSP and SP are not trying to reach their communities but to the Brahmins. So, Brahmins enjoy the availability of various options to them unlike Dalits and OBCs in Uttar Pradesh.

So nearly 30 years after the Mandal report, the parties which benefited from it don’t want to speak about it or the issues of OBCs.

Hence it is not merely V P Singh which they would not like to remember to keep their brahmin Bania friends happy but also forgo the issue of OBCs particularly reservation.

Like in 1990, these leaders are again on the wrong side of history. At that time they were responsible for the fall of V P Singh government and now they are competing with each other to ‘defeat’ the BJP. One does not know whether this gambit will succeed or not but if they fail, the people will never forgive them.

Can DMK and Stalin take lead to raise the issues of OBCs?

It is in this context one needs to appreciate the conviction and candidness of Tamilnadu Chief Minister M K Stalin. Despite being in a strong position and having a powerful DMK cadre, Stalin ensured that all like-minded political parties are on one platform. Congress, CPI, CPI(M), VCK have been part of the alliance for the last several years. Immediately after taking over as Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Stalin ordered the withdrawal of cases against activists as well as journalists on NRC-CAA.

He categorically opposed NEET and demanded that states should have their autonomy.

We all know there is no reservation for OBCs in NEET and Tamilnadu has been opposing it from day one. NEET format is basically meant to provide entry to north Indian Savarnas and Tamilnadu know it well and hence opposes it.

Chief minister Stalin in his first visit to Delhi and meeting with the prime minister called for the abolition of NEET so that the states can have their autonomy in providing reservation to OBC-SC-ST-minorities as per their population.

Tamilnadu Chief Minister has also formed an expert committee for the development of the state. Tamilnadu is the only state where reservation is beyond the 50% limit as ‘ordered’ by the Supreme Court. The state provides 50% reservation for OBCs which is categorised as 30% for OBCs and 20% for MBCs. The total reservation for SC-ST-OBCs in Tamilnadu is 69% and has been put under schedule IX of the constitution to protect it from getting challenged in the Supreme Court.

Tamilnadu’s DMK government is the only government that has come out so categorically to speak for the rights of the OBCs. It made unity with other Dravidian communities to fulfil the dreams of EVR Periyar. It was the first state which started the mid-day meal scheme which became extremely popular because of the good quality food provided to the children.

Recent initiatives by the Tamilnadu government for introducing non-brahmin priests in Tamilnadu temples as well as worship in the Tamil language are powerful but being opposed by BJP and Brahmanical elite which consider priesthood as their sole birthright. Unfortunately, north Indian Dalit OBC parties don’t even want to take the name of Periyar or DMK party because of the fear of a ‘Brahmanical’ ‘reaction’.

Look at the online campaign by various Bahujan activists against casteist slurs against Ms Mayawati but not a single politician of these parties reacted to it. Naming and shaming of casteist mindset got huge support on Twitter by the Bahujan activist but the lips of Bahujan leaders remained sealed because of the risk of losing Brahmin support.

Several years ago, Adijan ideologue and dear friend M C Raj told me in an interview that just because the president of a party happens to be Dalit or OBC does not make them Dalit OBC parties as they rarely raise their issues. They can be termed as political parties headed by a Dalit or OBC leader.

It is not that the netas don’t know about these facts but somewhere they lack the spirit of Bahujan ideology. Most of them have grown in ‘mainstream’ Brahmanical ideology hence using Ambedkar and Periyar radically to emancipate and liberate the Bahujan masses is not on their agenda. You cannot speak OBC-SC-ST empowerment without speaking about reservation, land redistribution, the autonomy of the Adivasis on their natural resources and participation in the power structure. Can you speak about the rights of the people if you have no understanding of why Rohit Vemula got killed and why the government continues to punish JNU, Jamia, AMU and other institutions? And here comes the power of ideology. I don’t say that DMK is faultless but Dravidian governments in Tamilnadu have been far better than any other governments in India for their pro-people work particularly that related to the marginalised sections as well as promotion of rationalist-humanist principles.

India is at the crossroads when priestly-capitalist castes are controlling our economy and polity together which can only be countered by a humanist alternative of the Bahujan leadership which is guided by the principles of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, EVR Periyar and other revolutionaries. They have provided us with a social-cultural and economic model and that model is not based on hatred and prejudices but equality and fraternity. Let us hope our leaders will understand the powerful heritage of Bahujan leaders and will not shy away from speaking for the rights of the marginalised sections of our society.

Modi might dominate but in the end, Mandal will have the last laugh. Will our leaders ready to replay it or have they assumed under the influence of their ‘Brahmanical’ advisers that Mandal is dead hence keep it buried so that ‘others’ are not ‘offended’. If the north Indian leaders have no interest in Mandal or reservation issues, it is better DMK lead it from the front to expose those who take their communities for granted.

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