The Allahabad High Court order quashing an Uttar Pradesh government notification that brought 18 Other Backward Class (OBC) communities in the list of Scheduled Castes is set to shake up politics over caste in the state as major parties get ready for the 2024 general elections.
The Opposition Samajwadi Party has now vowed to fight for the rights of the Other Backward Classes in the assembly as well as on the streets, and the Congress has accused the ruling BJP of betraying the OBCs after getting their votes.
BJP ally Nishad Party, which represents the OBC fisher communities, “welcomed” the court order, saying that the state government's previous notifications on the issue were flawed and “unconstitutional”.
But the party made it clear that it will continue to fight for the cause, lobbying with the governments at the state and the centre -- its stance indicating that it still expected the BJP to act.
An Allahabad High Court bench of Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice JJ Munir had on Wednesday allowed a petition that challenged the notifications issued in 2016 and 2019, and annulled the inclusion of 18 OBCs in the SC list.
The notifications had been issued by the Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav government (2016) and then by the previous Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government (2019). But there were court restrictions on their implementation.
Even earlier, the Samajwadi Party government led by party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav had tried to include these OBC castes in the SC category, issuing an order in 2005. But it was put on hold by the high court.
Two years later, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government quashed the order. But she later wrote to the Centre extending her support for the inclusion of some OBCs in the SC category.
The castes which the SP and the BJP governments intended to shift to the SC category are Majhwar, Kahar, Kashyap, Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Kumhar, Prajapati, Dheevar, Bind, Bhar, Rajbhar, Dhiman, Batham, Turha, Godia, Manjhi and Machchhua.
Altogether, the OBCs account for almost half of the population of the country's most populous state and play a decisive role in deciding the outcome on most of its 80 Lok Sabha seats.
As parties gear up for 2024, the inclusion - or not - of some OBC communities that seek benefits available to the SCs is likely to become a factor.
The SP, which considers the Yadavs its support base, has been keen to expand its influence among the voters from other OBC castes. For this, it has entered into alliances with smaller caste-centric parties --- the Apna Dal (Kamerwadi), the Mahan Dal and the Janwadi Party.
The ruling BJP has been working on garnering the support of non-Yadav OBC castes since the 2017 assembly elections in UP. The Apna Dal (Sonelal) and the Nishad party are now its allies in the state.
Of late, it seems to have also weaned away Om Prakash Rajbhar's Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and Shivpal Singh Yadav's Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) from the SP-led opposition fold.
Opposition parties have made their intent clear that they would use the issue against the ruling BJP in the next election.
SP leader Rajpal Kashyap indirectly suggested, but offered no evidence, that the BJP government was behind the petition on which the high court acted.
“The Yogi Adityanath government is taking away the rights of the OBCs. Our leader Akhilesh Yadav had got the notification issued after much discussion," he said. The former legislator claimed that these 18 castes had always been with the SP, which stood with them.
On Twitter, the SP said the BJP gave “lollipops”' to these castes but did not keep its promise to them. It termed it a “complete betrayal” of the 18 “most backward castes”.
“Where are those BJP leaders who do politics of backward castes and the leaders of their allies? An answer is needed from the BJP government for its anti-backward step," the party tweeted.
The Congress too attacked the BJP, claiming that the BJP betrayed the 18 OBCs it had promised to include in the SC category after the elections.
Party spokesperson Anshu Awasthi said if the BJP cared about these castes it should have brought in a law at the Centre to include them in the SC category.
Nishad party chief Sanjay Nishad, who is the minister of state for fisheries in the Yogi Adityanath government, said there was a “technical flaw” in the quashed state government order -- which he implied was carried over from the previous SP government order.
“We will continue to fight for the reservation of Majhwar under which seven castes including Nishad, Kewat, Mallah and Bind fall and will start a signature campaign in this regard. We will meet also Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Home minister Amit Shah in this regard," the minister said.
There was no immediate comment by the BJP.
After the 2016 notification by the Akhilesh Yadav government in 2016, the High Court had placed a ban in January 2017 on issuing SC certificates to these 18 OBC castes.
This was followed by a similar notification by the Yogi Adityanath government in June 2019. But the High Court intervened again and restrained its implementation.