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No reason to "question or suspect" Narendra Modi’s Backward Class credentials

By PS Krishnan*
The issue of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s “Backward Class” credentials has become the subject of active controversy. This controversy arose on a lower key in 2014 during the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014. At that time I wrote an article titled “Narendra Modi’s BC Caste Credentials – Authentic Facts” and sent it on May 10, 2014 to one of the prominent national dailies for publication.
In keeping with the lack of interest of national print and electronic media in matters, especially in-depth matters, pertaining to Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), that daily did not publish it. As the controversy has recurred more strongly now, I am updating my paper of 2014, and placing it in the public domain in order to provide authentic information on this, as the present and the past controversy suffer from inadequate information.
Those attributing fakeness to Narendra Modi’s Backward Class credentials base their allegation on the fact that his caste was not originally included in the list of SEdBCs, and it was later got included. It is alleged that his later inclusion was got done by him using his influence as Chief Minister. In the entire controversy, the name of his caste is not mentioned, which is “Ghanchi”.
Ghanchi is the Gujarati name for Teli, which is the Hindi name of a caste, known by different names in different States and languages, linked, according to the caste system, with the traditional occupation of oil-pressing and vending.
The caste, with oil-pressing and vending as the traditional occupation, has always been in the list of SEdBCs in every unit of India – well before Independence in Southern States and later in Northern States and the Centre –, entered by their local name(s), “Teli” in most States. In Gujarat they are known as Ghanchi, Teli and, in some parts, also as Ghancha.
This community was included in the List of BCs for Gujarat (then divided into Saurashtra, Kutch and partly Bombay) by the first Central Backward Classes (Kaka Kalelkar) Commission (1953-55), as “Ganika, Ghanchi, Teli” with the traditional occupation of “Oil pressing” under Bombay, “Ghanchi, Ghancha” with the traditional occupation of “Oil pressers and sellers” under Saurashtra, and “Ghancha” with the traditional occupation of “Oil pressesrs” under Kutch. The Second Backward Classes (Mandal) Commission (1979-80) included this community in its Gujarat BC list as “Teli, Modh Ghanchi”.
After the Supreme Court’s Mandal judgement upheld Central Government’s OM of August 13, 1990 providing for 27% reservation for BCs, a first-phase Central List of BCs was prepared by the Expert Committee on BCs, of which I was a Member, and notified States-wise by the Central Government in 1993 based on the criterion of “commonality”, i.e., inclusion in the first-phase Central List (CL) only of those castes present both in the State List (SL) and the Mandal List (ML) for that State.
In this first-phase CL, only “Ghanchi (Muslim)” was included and not “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” because the latter, though in the ML, was not in the SL. The Gujarat State BC List at that time, based on the Bakshi Commission’s recommendations, contained only “Ghanchi (Muslims)”. The criterion of “commonality” was suggested by me in 1990 when I was Secretary, Ministry of Welfare, in which capacity I processed the long-pending recommendations of the Mandal Commission and prepared the note, which was the basis for the then Government’s decision to provide 27% reservation for the SEdBCs. My suggestion of the principle of “commonality” was agreed to by the then Minister and Prime Minister and was followed by the succeeding Government also.
Later, NS Chaudhari, general secretary, Gujarat State Tailik Sahu Mahasabha, made request to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) for inclusion in the CL of “Teli” and its 16 sub-castes/synonyms, among them “Modh Ghanchi Teli” and “Ghanchi Teli”. A two-member bench of the NCBC held a public hearing on August 28, 1997 at Ahmedabad to examine this request, in accordance with the transparent procedure evolved at the outset by the NCBC.
By then, “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” had been included in the SL. The bench found “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” to be socially and educationally backward with the traditional occupation of “Tel Ghani” or oil-extraction by traditional crushing device, and to be inadequately represented in services. Those present – who were from different sections of society and State government representatives – not only did not oppose, but supported the inclusion of “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” in the CL.
The full five-member commission, of which I was member-secretary, and the chairman was a retired and reputed High Court judge, considered the bench findings and tendered advice to the Central government, communicated by my DO letter Advice No Gujarat 4-5/97 dated November 15, 1997, to include “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” as synonyms of Central List entry No “23. Ghanchi (Muslim)”. Accordingly, the Central government, in 1999, notified inclusion of “Teli, Modh Ghanchi” in the CL of BCs.
“Modh” is the prefix added to their caste name by castes who are followers of Modheshwari Devi, a popular Gujarat deity. Modh is not a caste or caste name, but denotes a religious sect across different castes.
When the Kaka Kalelkar Commission included this community in the BC list, Narendra Modi was a child of about 5 years. When the Mandal Commission included it with the name “Modh Ghanchi”, Modi must have been about 30 years old and could not have been in a position to “influence” the Mandal Commission.
The subsequent stages of NCBC’s Examination and Advice and Central Government’s inclusion of “Modh Ghanchi” in the CL of SEdBCs all occurred before he became the chief minister.
I am also in a position to make it clear from my personal experience of the period when I was member-secretary of NCBC from its inception in 1993 till 2000, that NCBC formulated its statutory advices objectively on the basis of facts and the primary criterion of “social backwardness”, after a pre-advertised transparent public enquiry in every case, without allowing any chief minister’s, Union minister’s or Prime Minister’s personal preference to intrude.
Even after I left NCBC, in 2013-14 when the leaders of the then Union government wanted to include a certain community in the CL for a number of states, where it is not socially backward, for extraneous reasons, apparently with an eye on the impending Lok Sabha elections of 2014, NCBC under the chairmanship of another retired High Court judge, gave its detailed findings and advice against the inclusion of that community in the CL of SEdBCs.
The government overruled it and issued orders in March 2014 including that community in the CL for a number of states. Organizations of genuine SEdBCs challenged the government’s order in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court struck down the Government’s order in 2015.
Thus, there is no reason for questioning the inclusion of “Modh Ghanchi” in the list of SEdBCs or suspecting manipulation or questioning Modi’s BC credentials.
While controverting the allegation of manipulation, Modi has claimed that he belongs to a Most Backward Class. In support of this he has said that members of his caste are very few in numbers in each village.
The population of a caste is not a criterion to decide whether it is More Backward or Most Backward or Extremely Backward. This is a matter of categorization of SEdBCs, with sub-quotas, in order to ensure that there is no unequal competition between backward castes at different levels of backwardness. This task has not been completed at the Centre and in most of the states of the North, including Gujarat, and East, while it has been existing since long in the peninsular states.
The Rohini Commission which was appointed by the Government of India in 2018 for categorisation of SEdBCs, has not completed its task and the latest extended date for its Report is May 31, 2019.. At this stage, it will not be possible to say whether the Ghanchi or Teli community will be categorized as Backward, or More Backward or Most Backward, in the CL for Gujarat or in the SL of Gujarat.
It is a happy situation that in Gujarat, this community has both Hindu and Muslim wings. One hopes this is a harbinger of future harmony based on justice, resolving of their common socio-economic deprivations covering both wings of the community as well as all other SEdBCs and SCs and STs of all religions, helping them to reach Constitutionally mandated Equality through Constitutionally mandated comprehensive social justice measures, including, but not only, reservation.
I have set out the above facts, with my good wishes to all parties, and the same social justice expectation from all of them, only so that this pointless dispute about one leader’s BC caste credentials does not continue. In 2014, when the election results was still awaited, I pointed out that, what is important was whether the post-election government and Prime Minister would take comprehensive social justice measures for SCs, STs and SEdBCs including SEdBCs of minorities to achieve the above goal of Equality.
I had already given my road-map of comprehensive social justice measures required for SCs, STs and SEdBCs to Modi, Rahul Gandhi, and other leaders of their parties as well as a number of other Parties. The alibi of ignorance was not available. In January-February 2019, I have sent to all of them the same road-map, updated on the basis of subsequent developments, for inclusion in their respective party manifestos and implementation after the elections of 2019. Now too, the alibi of ignorance is not available.
In early 2014, before he was nominated as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi had declared on February 9, 2014 that the coming decade will be the decade of Dalits, Adivasis and Picchade Varg (SEdBCs). He had also said that in the six decades after Independence, the SCs, STs and SEdBCs had not got their due and it was for him to fulfil the task.
Similarly, Dr Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister, in his address to the 51st meeting of the National Development Council (NDC) on July 27, 2005 laid down the task that the gap between the SCs and STs and others should removed within 10 years.
Modi had, in his speeches of 2014, outlined what he would do for weavers (who are Muslim SEdBC in Varanasi and most of North India, Hindu SEdBC in Peninsula, SCs in the West and North-West, Hindu and Muslim SEdBCs in the East and STs in the Northeast) and fisher-folk (Hindu, Christian and Muslim SEdBCs in Peninsula and SCs in the East and North East). Similar economic measures have to be actually taken for each and every SEdBC caste and for SCs and STs, apart from educational and other measures.
The question now is how far these tasks well-enunciated by the two leaders, who were successive Prime Ministers, have been fulfilled and what they and their parties and Government will do to complete the long-overdue and long-neglected unfinished tasks if they come to power at the Centre after the elections of 2019 and in the states where they are in/will come to power. The same question arises in respect of other parties also. This was the real post-May 2014 challenge.
I had suggested to parties and leaders of the ruling coalition and of the Opposition to take interest in and focus on that challenge. That continues to be the real post-May 2019 challenge for the future for all parties and leaders of ruling coalition as well as the Opposition in the Centre as well as each State.
The road-map which I have communicated to them in updated form early in 2019 will of help to them in doing their duty for SCs, STs and SEdBCs, comprehensively and holistically, without losing sight of crucial issues. My road-map is in the public domain. Copy can be furnished to anyone who is interested.
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*Former Secretary to Government of India, has been in the field of Social Justice, inter alia as Member, Expert Committee on BCs and Member-Secretary, NCBC, and Member, National Commission for SCs and STs, for SCs, STs, BCs, BC minorities and their women and children for the last more than seven decades. Contacts: 9810109596, pskrishnan63@yahoo.com

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