Lucknow: Social justice politics is back in discussion in Uttar Pradesh after the high court ruled that urban local body elections in the state be held without reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) given that the government did not complete the necessary formalities.
After the pronouncement of the verdict on Tuesday, December 27, the opposition came down heavily on the Yogi Adityanath-led Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government for showing “laxity” in completing the formalities that could have led to the implementation of OBC reservations in the elections.
The opposition accused the Yogi government of snatching away reservations from the OBC communities and warned that Dalits could also meet a similar fate.
There are 762 urban local bodies, including 17 municipal corporations, 200 Nagar Palika Parishads, and 545 Nagar Panchayats, in Uttar Pradesh. The total population of these 762 urban local bodies is 4.85 crore. On December 5, the Uttar Pradesh government issued a draft order reserving 27% of seats in 762 urban local bodies for the OBCs.
However, the government did not complete the “triple test” for OBC reservation, which was stipulated by the Supreme court.
In 2010, a constitution bench laid down the triple test formula, which involves forming a dedicated commission to collect data after conducting a “rigorous empirical inquiry” into the nature and implications of the backwardness with respect to local bodies, specifying the proportion of reservation, and not exceeding the 50% quota cap.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court said that local body elections in Uttar Pradesh should be held at the earliest, but there should be no reservation for OBCs. According to the court, no reservation should be accorded to OBCs in local body elections until the state government fulfills the requirements mandated by the apex court.
The decision was a setback for the BJP, which enjoys widespread support among OBC communities in the state. Meanwhile, the opposition parties seized the opportunity to lambast the BJP on the quota issue.
Decisive role played by OBCs in Uttar Pradesh
OBCs have a sizeable population in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh. They comprise nearly 50% of the state population and play a decisive role in every election, from local bodies to the Lok Sabha.
These communities have been playing a pivotal role in the victories of the BJP since Narendra Modi’s foray into national politics in 2014. Modi has said more than once that he is from an OBC community, winning significant support of these communities for the BJP.
The significance of these communities is evident from the fact that the Yogi government, within 24 hours of the verdict, set up an OBC commission and filed a special leave petition in the apex court on Thursday, December 29 to challenge it.
The newly set up commission will be headed by Justice (Retd.) Ram Avtar Singh. The other members of the commission are retired IAS officers Chob Singh Verma and Mahendra Kumar; and former legal advisors to the state Santosh Kumar Vishwakarma and Brijesh Kumar Soni.
Opposition lambasts BJP
However, the opposition is vehemently targeting the BJP for not completing the triple test in time. The Samajwadi Party ssees an opportunity in the latest development to woo the OBCs back into its fold, whose support it enjoyed between 1993 and 2012.
A large number of non-Yadav OBCs shifted their loyalties to the BJP in 2014 and have remained with the saffron party since then. This is one major reason behind the SP’s failure to stop the saffron party juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has trounced the Samajwadi Party in two assembly elections (2017 and 2022) and two general elections (2014 and 2019).
Political observers from the state say this was precisely the reason why despite losing his election in 2022, BJP’s OBC leader Keshav Maurya was made the deputy chief minister once again.
Akhilesh Yadav slammed the BJP on the OBC quota issue. “They (the BJP) formed governments with OBC votes and have now betrayed them by conspiring against their reserved quota in local body elections.”
While addressing a press conference in Lucknow on Thursday, December 29, the Samajwadi chief urged the state government to convene a special assembly session to discuss the issue of OBC reservation in urban local bodies.
He added that “the BJP was always against Dalits and OBCs and their reservation”. “Today the BJP has taken away the reservation of OBCs, tomorrow they will take away the rights of Dalits.”
Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati also hit out at the BJP and said that the OBC community will “punish” the BJP in the 2024 general election. According to the former chief minister, the court order reflected the “anti-OBC and anti-reservation” mindset of the BJP.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Brij Lal Khabri also slammed the government. “The backward classes population in the state is nearly 52%, and reservation is 27%,” he noted, adding that it was wrong on the part of the government to conduct elections before implementing OBC reservation.
“The high court has put the BJP government in the dock. Elections cannot be held without conducting a triple test, forming a commission, and identifying OBCs,” Brijlal Khabri added. The Congress party demanded the government provide OBC reservations and hold the elections on time.
However, Rakesh Tripathi, a BJP spokesperson, said that Akhilesh Yadav is “spreading rumors” about the OBC quota. Tripathi said that the BJP had clarified its stand that the local body elections will be conducted only after providing reservations to the OBCs.
Apna Dal (Sonelal), which is part of the National Democratic Alliance with the BJP, is also upset and said holding local body elections without OBC reservation is not the right thing to do. “If necessary, Apna Dal (S) will move the Supreme Court for the rights of the OBCs,” tweeted Apna Dal (Sonelal).
Interestingly, the OBCs’ reservation issue in the state has come to the fore at a time when Arvind Kumar Sharma, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is in charge of the urban development ministry.
Political observers believe if the local body elections were to be held without OBC reservation, then BJP may have to pay a heavy price in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP, which wrested OBC vote banks from the Samajwadi Party after 30 years of groundwork, could end up losing it all.
However, BJP leaders say that their party has a “Plan B”. If elections are held without OBC reservation, OBC candidates who intend to run after an interim notification should be given tickets. But the danger in this is that if a non-OBC wins these seats, the party will have to face the ire of OBC candidate and his supporters.