As the BJP seeks to woo Other Backward Classes (OBCs) by projecting its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s OBC identity, an anxious Congress has finally decided to bite the bullet on Jat reservation.
Sources said the UPA government is set to declare reservation for the Jat community in central government jobs in the OBC category shortly, although there are still some “technical complications” to be resolved. Sources maintained that the Congress was “always positive” about the Jat reservation demand as was evident from the setting up of a Group of Ministers to look into the issue recently.
The Congress leadership’s decision to throw its weight behind the Jat reservation demand is said to be driven by a growing realisation in the party that it cannot wish away Modi’s OBC identity which could, coupled with other factors, help the BJP wean away a chunk of OBCs from regional parties like the RJD and JD(U) in Bihar and SP in Uttar Pradesh among others.
“If there is polarisation along communal lines, we don’t know whether the OBCs would stay with their respective chieftains (regional satraps) or be amenable to Modi’s overtures. While Muslim voters will be split (between Congress and regional parties), we have to think of how we can rope in some big group to supplement the party’s somewhat fractured traditional support base,” a Congress strategist told The Indian Express.
While the BJP has not been very aggressive about Modi’s OBC identity so far, it has indicated that it is not averse to playing this card. This was evident from the way the BJP trained its guns at Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s “Gangu Teli” remark, saying that it was an insult not only to Modi but to the entire backward classes.
The Jat community plays an important, and often decisive, role in elections in many states likes Rajasthan, UP, Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh among others. While Jats have been included in the OBC category in some states, the community has been demanding reservation in central government jobs.
Congress sources admitted that inclusion of Jats may cause resentment among some existing OBCs. “But the Congress as a party has never been OBC-oriented, unlike some regional parties. Otherwise also, OBCs don’t vote en bloc for any particular party and have their own differences. We can live with it (backlash of Jat reservation), if there is any,” said a Congress functionary.
The ruling party may, however, face some hurdles. Earlier, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) had rejected the demand for Jat reservation. In 2011, it was given the power to review the decision, following which it commissioned a study by the ICSSR on the socio-economic conditions of Jats. “Even after we get the report, it wouldn’t be so easy to reverse our earlier position and take just an opposite stand. But whatever we may do, the government can always announce reservation for Jats, even though it may or may not stand judicial scrutiny,” said an NCBC member.