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Why HC verdict nullifying Bengal OBC certificates will resonate in national politics

The Calcutta High Court striking down all OBC (Other Backward Classes) reservations extended by the West Bengal government since 2010 is a verdict that is going to hold the political centrestage nationally through the last stretch of voting for the Lok Sabha elections.

The May 22 ruling by a division bench of the high court implies that the 77 classes recognised as OBCs in 2010 and 2012 lose all future job and other benefits of reservation. The order impacts hundreds of thousands of OBC certificates issued since 2010.

While Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has dug her heels in and declared that her government will, if need be, challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, the BJP is flagging the court order as a vindication of its position that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been neck-deep into the appeasement of minorities .

The case was being heard by the high court since 2010. The 211-page judgment, passed by the division bench of Justices Tapabrata Chakraborty and Rajasekhar Mantha, said the identification of classes had been done to meet ‘political ends’.

In 2010, 42 classes were recognised as OBCs, out of which 41 were Muslims. Of the 35 classes recognised in 2012, 30 were from the community. This is in stark contrast to only 12 of the 66 classes recognised till 2010 being Muslims.

According to the petitioners, the Bengal government had, in 2010, asked the University of Calcutta to conduct a survey to identify the ‘more backward’ among the backward classes. On September 15 that year, the university submitted a preliminary report. But without waiting for the final report, the state government decided to expand OBC quota from 7 per cent to 17 per cent. On September 24, the state created two categories: one with 10 per cent reservation and the other with 7 per cent, argued the petitioners. That decision has also been struck down by the court.

A political analyst, who did not wish to be named, explained that after the 2009 general elections, the CPI(M)-led Left Front had realised that the Muslim community was drifting away. Since then, the CPI(M) held numerous discussions internally and it was decided that Muslims be granted reservation. This, however, did not benefit the party electorally because the TMC assumed power in 2011, carrying on with the practice and consolidating the support of Muslims.

The court order is being seen by the TMC’s critics as a sharp indictment of the Mamata government’s policies. “This court’s mind is not free from doubt that the said community has been treated as a commodity for political ends. This is clear from the chain of events that led to the classification of the 77 classes as OBCs and their inclusion to be treated as a vote-bank,” reads the high court order.

The court also struck down multiple sections of the West Bengal Backward Classes (Other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts) Act, 2012. Consequently, quota provided to 37 classes included in the exercise of Section 16 of the Act were also nullified.

However, in a relief to the quota beneficiaries, the verdict has prospective effect only. Hence, an individual who has already been recruited on the basis of these reservations will get to keep the job but won’t be eligible for benefits in the future.

Politically, the issue is heading to a flashpoint, with Mamata saying she doesn’t accept the verdict. “When 26,000 people (school teaching/ non-teaching staff) lost their jobs because of the BJP, I had said I would not accept it. Similarly, I state today as well that I do not accept this order that is dictated by the BJP. OBC reservation will continue. Imagine their audacity. This is a tainted chapter in the [history of] country,” she said at a poll rally.

Alluding to pressure from the BJP-led central government, Mamata charged: “For the past few days, the prime minister has been claiming that minorities will snatch away the reservation for Tapashili communities. How can this happen? It would lead to a constitutional breakdown. Minorities can never touch the Tapashili or Adivasi reservation. But these mischievous people (BJP) get their work done through certain institutions.”

Union home minister Amit Shah, who was campaigning in Bengal on May 22, welcomed the verdict, saying: “Mamata Banerjee had given reservation to Muslim classes without any survey of backwardness. She wants to loot the reservation for backward classes and give it to Muslims for her vote-bank.”

“Can a constitutional head say she doesn’t accept the high court order?” asked Shah. “What kind of democracy is this in Bengal? The whole INDIA bloc [is doing this]. The Congress has done this in Telangana and Karnataka. The BJP is against this because the Constitution doesn’t allow any reservation on the basis of religion.”

The Lok Sabha polls have seen India’s minorities being pulled into the middle of the campaign, with the BJP and the Opposition trading blame. The ensuing politics over the high court verdict on OBCs in Bengal looks set to muddy the waters all the more.

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Published By:

Shyam Balasubramanian

Published On:

May 24, 2024

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