Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, who has been handed the daunting task of improving Congress’s dismal tally of three MPs during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, on Wednesday announced a 27 per cent increase in the OBC reservation and implementation of 10 per cent reservation for the upper castes.
Presently in Madhya Pradesh, the maximum 20 per cent reservation is offered to scheduled tribes, 16 per cent to scheduled castes and 14 per cent to other backward classes (OBCs) — a dominant vote bank which comprises of around 50 per cent voter base in Madhya Pradesh, which was governed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, an influential OBC politician, for almost 13 years.
While presenting the 70-day report card of his government in Bhopal on Thursday, Nath said, “For years, OBCs have been receiving 14 per cent reservation in MP and I am not sure why the former chief minister (Shivraj Chouhan) could not hike this in all those years when he governed.”
The OBCs will now get 27 per cent reservation in central government jobs and higher education opportunities. “Even Tamil Nadu has breached the 50 per cent ceiling of reservation and this limit also has been breached at the Centre. So why can’t we do the same?” said Nath on being asked whether his announcements require constitutional amendments.
“I have consulted top lawyers on the issue,” added the chief minister.
Besides, while announcing reservation for the OBCs who have long allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Nath did not forget to bite into the upper caste vote bank of the BJP by announcing early implementation of 10 per cent reservation for the upper castes.
“I have already announced formation of a cabinet committee on this, but only to look into the implementation aspects. We have already accepted the provision approved by the Centre,” clarified Nath, allying fears that his government wanted to avoid introduction of quota for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
However, many believe this is a ploy to dent the saffron party’s combined vote bank of OBCs and upper castes, especially after the recent assembly polls offered almost identical vote share to the BJP and Congress.
The vote share of the BJP and Congress of 2014 would also be haunting Nath relentlessly as the saffron party had pocketed 54 per cent votes, while the Congress was left with 34.9 per cent vote share.
Wooing OBC and upper caste votes holds more importance as Mayawati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party have announced that they will be contesting the general elections in Madhya Pradesh without Congress.
But the Congress’s share has improved from 36.4 per cent in 2013 assembly polls to 41.4 per cent in the 2018 assembly polls, while that of the BJP has come down from 44.9 per cent to 41.3 per cent. Although the saffron party still lost out on seats, the Congress is well aware that this identical vote share could spell doom for its Lok Sabha dreams. The party was handed a whitewash by the BJP in 2014 when Modi’s popularity helped the latter win 27 out of 29 seats and Congress could only salvage some pride through wins in Guna (Jyotiraditya Scindia) and Chhindwara (Kamal Nath).
As a consolation, Congress’s Kantilal Bhuria, who lost in 2014, had won a by-poll in Jhabua-Ratlam to improve the party’s dismal tally in 2015.
Well aware that it isn’t going to be a cakewalk in 2019 Lok Sabha elections in MP, Nath put up a brave face when he claimed that the party would win 25-plus seats.
However, the party insiders claim that the state unit would be quite content if it manages victories in over a dozen seats in the upcoming polls.
Lalit Shastri, the founder of anti-quota stir in MP, agreed that the Congress’ attempt was to take credit of the upper caste reservation approved by the Centre. “Quota is no longer an issue in the Lok Sabha polls in MP and it would be only fought on nationalism and Pakistan,” said Shastri, referring to the feedback he got from those involved in the anti-quota stir.
Senior political commentator Rasheed Kidwai differed from Shastri as he claimed that reservation issues always come with some emotional weightage for the targeted sections that claim it as their win and reservation of their due rights. Kidwai was also of the view that the announced reservation is aimed at denting BJP’s traditional vote bank. It also exhibits the pressure the Congress is facing to improve its tally of 2014, he said.