In what could kickstart a political debate, the Congress-led government of Chhattisgarh almost doubled the reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and hiked the Scheduled Caste (SC) quota marginally in government jobs and education.
Announcing the decision during his independence day speech, chief minister Bhupesh Baghel said that reservations for OBCs will be increased from 14% to 27%. The quota for SCs will be increased by 1% while reservation for Scheduled Tribes has been left untouched at 32%.
“I am very happy to say that in our state, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes have been raising their demands in a peaceful manner for a long time. It is our duty to protect their Constitution given rights. In a big step towards that, today, I announce that in the state, that 32% for STs, 13% for SCs and 27% reservation will be given to OBCs,” the chief minister said.
Once implemented, 72% of Chattisgarh’s government jobs and education will be reserved, surpassing Tamil Nadu which with 69%, has a unique reservation system. The Supreme Court has capped the quotas in all states at 50%, except a few states which have been able to justify its “unique” nature. Chhattisgarh had previously exceeded this cap (58%), but the hike is again likely to generate debate.
Political commentators believe that the decision will help Baghel, an OBC leader, consolidate the OBC population, numerically the largest in the state, under the Congress’s umbrella. OBCs in the state have been demanding a greater share of reservation for a long time.
Others like Raipur-based analyst Ashok Tomar believed Baghel appears to be charting out a regional political narrative, something on the lines of what former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah did in recent times. This, he says, will help him combat the strong “national” narrative advanced by the BJP and prime minister Narendra Modi.
Whatever may be the reason, the first question that the state government will have to address is how does it plan to face possible legal challenges. The Baghel government appears to have a plan in mind.
Speaking to the Indian Express, a senior government official said, “The question of the cap by the Supreme Court is a complicated issue. It is not that states have not exceeded that. Look for example at Haryana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Each state is unique on this issue. We are prepared for any legal challenge. But in our state which is unique, the percentage of OBCs is close to 47 per cent, who along with STs form the major chunk of the population. Why should they be short-changed with only 14 per cent reservation? This has been a demand of OBC groups for well over a decade.”