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The Centre has approved 27% reservations for OBCs under the all-India quota for UG and PG programmes in medical and dental colleges. Alongside the increased representation of OBCs in the Cabinet, this is aimed at consolidating support ahead of next year’s five assembly elections even as it offsets the unfavourable political impact of the Supreme Court judgment that the passage of the 102nd Amendment in 2018 means states no longer have any power to identify ‘socially and educationally backward’ classes.
The 27% figure has followed from the Mandal Commission which in 1980 recommended this reservation quota for OBCs in government jobs and educational institutes based on an estimated 52% OBC population in the country, an estimate which in turn derives from the 1931 Census that enumerated a wide range of castes, albeit at a time when India’s population including that of present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh was only 270 million.
Quite apart from the 52% OBC population estimate being from another era, the Rohini commission on finding that over the past five years just 10 caste groups have constituted 25% of beneficiaries while over 1,000 have had no representation at all, has recommended sub-categorisation for the quota to better meet its goal of social uplift of deprived communities.In other complicating data, UDISE+ primary school enrollment data suggests that the nationwide OBC population is 45% but with wide regional variations, ranging from 71% in Tamil Nadu to 15% in Punjab.
When all other pretences of making India a casteless society have been abandoned, and caste-based appeals of different sections of society get a hearing depending on their clout, what sense does it make to not enumerate the castes afresh, instead of continuing to work with a 1931 estimate? From Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and MoS social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale to the Maharashtra assembly and the National Commission for Backward Classes, this is where the call for a caste-based Census is coming from. It is logical given the continuing expansion of quota politics, even if this very expansion speaks to the utter failure of reservation to meet its stated policy goals.