Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image is set to get a boost among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in South India after the Union Cabinet’s decision this week to divide them into sub-groups with regard to educational and employment opportunities in the Central institutions and services. The Prime Minister has received vocal support from the OBC sections cutting across party lines in these states.

This landmark decision is in tune with the BJP top leadership’s policy of OBC outreach as part of its approach to expand the party’s footprint across the country and consolidate its position among the weaker sections, which were traditionally aligned with Congress, the Left or regional parties. The OBC division will help the BJP come closer to hitherto neglected backward castes. The Cabinet resolution appointing a panel to suggest categorisation of OBCs has fulfilled a long held demand for the socially and educationally backward classes in the country in general and from the southern states in particular. The National Backward Classes Commission made a specific suggestion to this extend to the Centre in March 2015.

PM Modi has gathered different kinds of inputs on this recommendation from various ministries at the Centre and states and finally given his nod this week. The proposed panel likely to be constituted next month will submit its report within three months. Sources in the Central government told The Sunday Guardian that the government might introduce a Bill in the Budget session of Parliament. The Centre is aware of the possible resistance from the dominant OBCs which are enjoying fruits of quota in educational institutions and jobs all these years, but the government is counting on the likely pressure from the most backward and extremely neglected backward classes which are numerically strong in the country, according to a senior BJP leader who is privy to the developments.

This BJP leader based in Hyderabad has said that this move would particularly help the BJP gain ground in the southern states where OBCs have been enjoying state level quotas for over three decades and have a higher awareness levels. Except for Kerala, other southern states—Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and UT Pondicherry—have already divided OBCs into four to five sub-groups.

In the North, only Maharashtra, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal have divided OBCs into sub-groups and in Uttar Pradesh, the division is not complete, though the state has recognised some castes as most backward classes. However, the demand grew louder over the years to categorise the OBCs in the remaining states as well as at the Centre so that social justice becomes equitable. Of the total 2,479 castes in the OBC list with the Centre, only a handful of them, around 50 to 60 have been enjoying benefits of the reservations as they are economically and educationally far better than the rest. All the seats in top educational institutes like AIIMS and IITs and jobs in IAS, IPS and other premier services are grabbed by these forward among the backward castes.

Even the National Backward Classes Commission has recognised this anomaly and pressed for splitting them into sub-groups. “The successive governments at the Centre since 1991 have failed to muster courage to categorise OBCs fearing backlash from the dominant BC castes,” said Vakulabharanam Krishna Mohan Rao, a former National BC Commission member. Rao, currently member of the Telangana State Backward Classes Commission, felt that PM Modi’s move to categorise would go a long way in empowering most backward castes in the true sense. He said that several OBC organisations from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been demanding this for the past several years, but only PM Modi could take a decision.

R. Krishnaiah, president of All India BCs Organisation and an MLA in Telangana, too, hailed the BJP government’s bold move on the OBC categorisation. “Hundreds of new castes will get their voice and thousands of sub-castes will get to enjoy the fruits of reservation. We hope that the Centre’s move will force the remaining states too to classify the OBCs,” he said.

Once the categorisation is done, the demands from another 2,600 castes that they be included in the list of OBCs can be taken up by the Centre, V.S. Puttanna, Karnataka BCs Welfare Association president, said on phone from Bangalore. Puttanna, who was in the OBCs movement for over four decades, said that unless the OBCs are categorised at the national level, real social justice would not be possible in India.

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