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Gujarat BJP rulers woo unreserved castes with a pittance: Rs 10 of 500 crore "approved"

By RK Misra*
The caste conundrum has burnt the BJP’s boat in Madhya Pradesh. Now it appears set to singe it in Gujarat, even sink it. As the saying goes, don’t play with fire, it burns. Caught in a cleft-stick following the 2015 Patidar agitation, which saw the ruling party nearly toppled from its power perch in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, successive BJP governments in Gujarat find themselves lost in the reservation alley, sinking further every time it seeks to beat its way out.
Its latest move came recently when it put out a list of 69 castes and sub-groups among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Parsis as well as Jews who would be defined as “unreserved classes”.
Officially, the list is designed to provide caste certificates to those from the unreserved castes, so that they can get benefits under the Gujarat Unreserved Educational and Economical Development Corporation (GUEEDC) scheme of 2017. This in effect means that the government has now created a new caste category called the ‘unreserved castes’.
"It’s like the proverbial garden fence, which keeps you out without obscuring the view, while allowing you to nibble from the edges", points out a top political leader preferring anonymity for obvious reasons. ”Nothing very new, except the urgency which is gripping the BJP as it realizes it’s support base slipping so it attempts to inject new life into the old for publicity’s sake”, adds a Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader.
The fact is that the Vijay Rupani government found itself handicapped after its own party government in neighbouring Maharashtra founded a new "socio-education backward class” to grant reservation benefits to Marathas.
The post-Narendra Modi era governments in Gujarat have been battling an intransigent Patidar community led by a youthful Hardik Patel heading a PAAS which has been demanding reservation in educational institutions and government jobs for his community.
The issue has seen heightened political passions, violence and statewide agitations which continues to simmer on a slow burner even after taking the toll of a Patidar chief minister, Anandiben Patel (the present MP governor).
It returned to blight the life of Amit Shah appointee chief minister Rupani following the announcement, ironically, in neighbouring Mumbai by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on November 18 about creation of a special category for Marathas based on the reports and recommendations of their state commission of backward classes.
PAAS reservation spearhead Hardik Patel was quick to pounce on the issue questioning how Maharashtra could do it and Gujarat failed. ”If it is possible constitutionally in Maharashtra, how come Gujarat failed lamely stating that beyond 50 per cent reservation was not possible”.
The fact of the matter is that Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki had introduced reservation for socially and economically backward classes(SEBC) based on recommendations of the Bakshi Commission in 1981, but the anti-reservation agitation in which the BJP was also a silent participant put paid to the effort.
Though simmering on the backburner, the issue again came to the fore in July 2015 when the Patidars led by a 23 year old youth leader, Hardik Patel, held public demonstrations in support of their demand for OBC status. A rally in Ahmedabad on August 25, 2015 led to statewide violence after a police assault on peaceful agitators. Subsequently, on September 24, 2015 chief minister Anandiben Patel announced a scheme which offered scholarships and subsidies to general category students.
On April 30, 2016, her government followed it up with a new 10 per cent quota in jobs and college admissions for the economically backward among upper classes (EBCs) in a bid to defuse the Patidar agitation. The decision was taken at a core committee meeting of the Gujarat BJP in which national president Amit Shah was also present.
The new quota took the state past the 50 per cent reservation limit set by the Supreme Court. Gujarat then had 48 per cent reservation which included 7 per cent reservation for scheduled castes,14 per cent for scheduled tribes and 27 per cent for OBCs. PAAS had rejected the move as a mere lollipop. The 10 per cent reservation for the EBC was predictably quashed by the Gujarat High Court in August 2016 .
Former chief minister Suresh Mehta sees the genesis of the present problem in the rising resentment and frustration amongst the youth caused by soaring unemployment. ”Blinded by the extravaganzas unleashed by the then chief minister Narendra Modi through the Vibrant Gujarat summits that promised an upsurge of jobs, the youth were led into a blind alley and were frustrated when not even a fraction of these materialized", he says.
"When parents pay through their nose for costly education and thereafter the children idle at home with degrees in hand, the result is an explosive mix which spills over in society causing incalculable harm to the social fabric”, he adds.
The present delineation of the ’unreserved groups’ is an exercise which was launched in September 2017 in the run up to the Vidhan Sabha elections in the state in the shape of the GUEEDC. Under the scheme the government intended to grant monetary benefits to youth for education including foreign education, food bill assistance, tuition fee assistance ,coaching assistance, aid for competitive exams, self-employment assistance and bank loans for professionals training for competitive examinations.
Of the total budgetary allocation of Rs 500 crore, the state government has sanctioned Rs 100 crore for GUEEDC. But the fact remains that it has so far received a mere Rs 7.25 crore and in principle approval for another Rs 2.74 crore, according to official sources. Until November this year, only 433 applications have been received of which 146 were approved,109 rejected and 127 under processing.
This government is only interested in making grand announcements, but when it comes to implementation, it is a big zero. Moreover , theirs is an election to election announcement, points out Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi. ”The scheme was announced before the Vidhan Sabha elections and now as the parliamentary elections are nearing so comes another set of announcements. The actual allocation lets the cat out of the bag”, he adds.
The fact remains that the setting up of the corporation came as the PAAS tightened the screws of an impending stir. The new list of detailing now comes as the patidars and other general category people have announced their intention to launch a concerted agitation after the Maharashtra Bill for 16 per cent reservations for Marathas was passed.
PAAS had recently submitted a memorandum to the State OBC Commission stating that the Maharashtra commission for backwards had accepted that the Maratha community belongs to the backward caste and that on similar lines the patidars too should qualify in Gujarat.
The PAAS leader is also in talks with the Congress on the issue and the quota stir is expected to get a push in coming days.
“The BJP is playing with fire as it sets to play one set of people against the other and this base politics will eventually sink it”, points out former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela adding, “The recent election results of MP, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh is proof of it”.
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: Wordsmiths & Newsplumbers

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