New Delhi: The Congress Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – passed a resolution on Monday, October 9, to remove the 50% cap on reservation through legislation if elected to power. The decision was taken in the CWC meeting, which also unanimously supported the demand for a pan-India caste and socio-economic survey in India.
Today, the CWC unanimously resolved to conduct a nationwide caste census when we come to power in the Centre, as well as to conduct it in every INC-ruled state.
— K C Venugopal (@kcvenugopalmp) October 9, 2023
Although many regional parties have been debating the 50% cap for a long time to accommodate a greater number of OBCs in various positions according to the proportion of their population, the Supreme Court had struck down most of such appeals and stuck to the 50% cap ruling in the Mandal commission case. However, the apex court indirectly breached the 50% cap in November 2022 when it gave a nod to the Union government’s decision to implement a 10% reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) through a majority judgement 3:2.
Now, the Congress has become the first national party to support the OBC demand to remove such a cap against the backdrop of a growing clamour for a caste census. In its resolution passed during the Monday CWC meeting, the Congress leaders resolved to “remove the cap of 50% through legislation for the reservation of OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in line with the commensurate share of the population”.
The demand to remove the 50% cap is being talked about increasingly among Mandal parties as they believe that a 10% reservation for EWS groups has already breached the ceiling set earlier by the Supreme Court. The EWS reservation judgment gave an opportunity to them to demand reservation and representation in accordance with their population.
Recently, the Bihar caste survey revealed that the share of OBCs in the state’s population is 63%. The Supreme Court’s approval to the EWS quota also set off a debate about proportional representation in the reservation system. The Mandal parties have argued that a 10% reservation for the EWS, which effectively sets aside quota only for the so-called “upper” caste groups, is disproportionately high.
Speaking to The Wire in January 2023, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar Jha said, “The SC ceiling on reservation meant that 52% of the OBC population could get only a 27% quota. Now that the SC itself has broken the ceiling by upholding the EWS quota, our demand for a caste census is justified.” He had said that the EWS quota will ensure 10% reservation for upper castes even in states like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh and others where their population is much below 10%. “The EWS quota will give them (‘upper’ caste groups) a disproportionate advantage,” he said.
“That is why we want scientifically-counted caste data in black and white. Only a caste census can truly deepen our democracy,” he said.
The Congress has now resolved to take a legislative route to remove the 50% cap, which can be effective in implementing a reservation system based on a possible pan-India caste census, especially if it throws up data similar to that of Bihar.
The CWC resolution takes on the Narendra Modi government quite directly. The Modi government and BJP haven’t taken a clear stance on the issue of caste census. While its state-level leaders have been attempting to dodge a direct answer to the questions, the Prime Minister has practically opposed it by accusing the opposition forces as those who are “committing the sin” of dividing people along caste lines. In one of his recent election rallies, he also spoke about how “poverty” is the only caste that needs attention.
The Congress, on the other hand, has said that the caste census will give the poor of the country their proportional share in political and administrative resources as well as the wealth of the country. Rahul Gandhi on Monday, October 9, said that the party believed that the poor mostly belong to OBC, Dalit, and Adivasi communities and that a caste census will open a “new development paradigm” in the country.
The opposition is now rooting for a caste census to be implemented as a measure for an egalitarian society as soon as possible.
The Congress resolution resolved to push for a nationwide caste census as part of the 2021 census which has been postponed by the Modi government. Welcoming the caste survey in Bihar, the Congress said, “The disparity between representation and share in population revealed by the final figures of the survey highlights the urgent need to take effective steps to ensure social justice.”
The resolution supported the Justice G.Rohini commission for OBC sub-categorisation constituted by the Modi government but added that “it will remain incomplete without detailed data on the socio-economic position of various communities, which can be obtained either from the still unreleased data from the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census or a fresh Caste Census”. The opposition forces have accused the Centre of sitting on the Rohini Commission’s data and have suspected that the Modi government may not release the data at all.
Taking off from such opposition contention, Gandhi on Monday said that the Prime Minister has only distracted people from the issue of caste census, despite the fact that he belonged to an OBC group. He said that the Prime Minister hasn’t addressed the questions of abysmal representation of OBC, Dalit, and Adivasi groups in governments, institutions, and various professions at all, and that he believed that a caste census can help all the governments to work better towards that goal.
The CWC resolution said that a nationwide caste census “will reveal an accurate picture of the socio-economic position of communities across the country and provide a sound, data-driven basis for policies to strengthen the foundations of social justice and ensure inclusive development”.
“The Modi government has cheated the OBC communities and other deprived sections of the country by not releasing the data of the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census and not carrying out a fresh Caste Census; it has also failed in its Constitutional duty by inordinately postponing the decadal Census that ought to have been conducted in 2021 or soon thereafter. It is a matter of shame that India remains the only country in the G20 that has failed to carry out the Census,” the resolution said.
The Congress resolution said that the demand for a caste census came up repeatedly during the Bharat Jodo Yatra and that is why it was included in the party’s Raipur declaration at the 85th plenary in February 2023.
The CWC resolution also expressed its condolences for the flood victims in Sikkim and north Bengal, and emphasised the need for “cumulative and credible environmental impact assessments in ecologically vulnerable Himalayan regions to avoid the repeat of such disasters in the face of climate change”, and demanded that the recent floods in Himachal Pradesh should be declared as a “national disaster”.
The Congress also condemned the Modi government’s “raids on dozens of journalists and writers, and the invocation of anti-terror laws against them. “The conspiracy theories floated by the government only expose its own monumental hypocrisy in accepting donations from Chinese companies to PM CARES Fund and investments from China’s government-owned companies, its inability to control the zooming imports from China, and worst of all the Prime Minister’s clean chit to China on 19th June 2020, when he denied all Chinese transgressions at our border,” the resolution said.
It also condemned the “collapse of the constitutional machinery” in Manipur and attacked the Prime Minister for not visiting the conflict-ridden state even once in the last five months despite increasing instances of vigilantism and threats by armed mobs.
“The Modi government has escalated the misuse of the law and the unleashing of central agencies against those who ask questions and oppose the government’s actions, including the leaders of the Opposition parties across the country. Such coercive and illegal action cripples the free press, hinders the fundamental rights of citizens, journalists and politicians to hold the government accountable, and lowers India’s standing in the world as a democracy,” the resolution said.
On the economic front, the CWC expressed concern over “the recent RBI data which shows that net financial assets of Indian households in 2022-23 had fallen to 5.1% which is a nearly five-decade low.”
“Similarly, real income growth is at its lowest in four decades. Hit by stagnant wages, high inflation and widespread unemployment, millions of Indian families are forced into borrowing money for their consumption needs. The CWC believes that the dismal situation is the result of the Modi government’s anti-people, pro-crony economic policies which have resulted in the concentration of wealth and power in a few hands in every sector of the economy,” the CWC said, calling for a “comprehensive reset of economic policy” that will address “growing unemployment and widening inequalities”.
The resolution also supported the Palestinian people and their right to land and self-government amidst the ongoing clashes between Hamas and Israel. It called for an “immediate ceasefire and for negotiations to begin on all imperative issues that have given rise to the present conflict”. The party’s stand on the West Asian crisis contrasted with that of BJP’s which has used the clashes to advance its anti-Muslim political rhetoric.