On May 18, hours after the Supreme Court allowed reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local body elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan held a press conference in Bhopal, hailing the apex court’s decision while highlighting that his pledge made on the floor of the Assembly to ensure these polls with OBC quota stood fulfilled.
Chouhan, the third BJP CM belonging to the OBC community in Madhya Pradesh after Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur, said the top court’s ruling proved “Satyamev Jayate” (truth alone triumphs).
Modifying its May 10 order directing local urban and rural bodies polls to be held in the state without the OBC quota, the apex court allowed the state government to implement the OBC reservation while ensuring that the 50 per cent quota ceiling is not breached.
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The court’s ruling came on the government’s application pleading for modifications of its order, stating that the state Backward Classes Commission submitted a revised report which satisfied the court’s triple-test requirements for the OBC reservation and gave a break-up of the quota to be provided local body-wise. It said the delimitation exercise in the state had been completed even before the May 10 order.
Flanked by senior BJP leaders, Chouhan railed against the principal Opposition Congress, blaming it for creating the OBC quota crisis in the first place by filing a case in the court. He also sought to take credit for the decks being cleared now for the conduct of local body polls with OBC quota, claiming that his government took all possible measures to ensure it.
The Congress also held a press conference the same day to target the BJP on the issue, claiming that the ruling party has been able to ensure barely 14 per cent OBC quota instead of 27 per cent.
“The OBCs will not get the benefit of 27 per cent reservation as against 14 per cent earlier as the apex court’s order categorically states that the total reservation cannot be beyond 50 per cent. We cannot expect any relief for the OBCs from the BJP government and thereby we have decided to give 27 per cent tickets to OBC candidates in the polls,” state Congress president and ex-CM Kamal Nath told reporters.
Echoing Nath’s statement, Congress leader Kamleshwar Patel accused the saffron party of “actually getting the OBC reservation reduced” from 27 per cent to 14 per cent due to its “mishandling” of the case in the court and “then terming the court verdict as its victory.” An OBC leader, Patel had served as the panchayat and rural development minister in the previous Nath-led Congress government.
The Congress also supported the statewide bandh held by the Madhya Pradesh OBC Mahasabha on May 21 in protest against the “reduction of OBC quota”.
The president of the Madhya Pradesh OBCs, SCs (Scheduled Castes), STs (Scheduled Tribes) Ekta Manch, Lokendra Gurjar, called the apex court’s decision a “loss for the OBC community with their reserved seats reduced to half”, saying that “In 2014, even in districts where SCs-STs’ seats comprised 49 per cent of reserved seats, the OBC was given 25 per cent reservation, but now with the 50 per cent quota cap we will have merely 2,985 reserved seats for OBC sarpanches as against 4,295 earlier. On closer scrutiny, the reservation for OBC has been slashed to almost half across all posts.”
Buoyed by the apex court’s ruling, Chouhan, the four-time, longest-serving MP CM, accused Nath for “using OBC reservation for his vote-bank politics”.
After the Nath-led Congress trounced the BJP in the December 2018 Assembly polls and came to power in the state after 15 years, in which Dalits and tribals were said to have strongly backed the grand old party, Nath had, soon after becoming the CM , sought to woo the OBCs – which account for about 50 per cent of the state’s total eight crore population and are considered to be the BJP’s key support base – by proposing 27 per cent reservation for them in local body polls and other spheres.
Nath had made this move in March 2019 barely a few weeks before the Lok Sabha polls, even though MP already had 14 per cent reservation for the OBCs and 36 per cent quota for the SCs and the STs. With Nath’s announcement, the reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs rose to 63 per cent.
The Congress had also undertaken an exercise in 2019 to ensure rotation on reservation in local body polls, creating 1,100 new panchayats in the process. But before the local body elections, then due in December 2019, could be held, the party lost its government in the wake of the defection of 25 party MLAs – affiliated to the then rebel senior party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia – to the BJP, which led to Chouhan taking over as the CM once again on March 23, 2020.
Significantly, by promulgating an ordinance in November 2021, the Chouhan government annulled the Congress government’s 2019 rotation on reservation policy, restoring the 2014 policy of the rotation, reservation and delimitation of local bodies.
“We had already carried out a delimitation exercise and only a few panchayats were left when we lost the government. BJP could have easily completed the delimitation exercise and conducted the polls, but they instead passed an ordinance to conduct panchayat elections as per the 2014 rotation on reservation policy, which was against the Constitution. The Congress had opposed this ordinance in the apex court,” said Patel.
After the top court stayed the OBC quota in local body polls for non-fulilment of triple-test requirements, the MP election panel on December 28 last year canceled these polls after having announced the panchayat elections in three phases during January-February.
The BJP had then blamed the Congress for the ensuing situation. Subsequently, Chouhan moved a resolution in the Assembly pitching for local body polls with the OBC quota, which was unanimously passed by the House.
Subsequently, the Congress’s Rajya Sabha member and noted lawyer Vivek Tankha filed a criminal defamation case against Chouhan, state BJP chief VD Sharma and urban development minister Bhupendra Singh for allegedly propagating “incorrect facts” about the OBC quota case and maligning his image.
Following the top court’s nod, the Chouhan government is now actively engaged in ensuring reservation of seats for the coming local body polls based on the state OBC Commission’s findings, which has put the state’s total OBC population at 48 per cent while setting out a five- point methodology to allocate 0-35 per cent quota for the OBCs while ensuring SCs/STs reservation.