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Sub-categorisation of OBCs: Govt extends term again without panel asking for it

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday gave the 13th extension to the Justice Rohini Commission, giving it time until January 31, 2023 to submit its report.

With the move coming even without the commission seeking an extension, it betrays the ruling BJP‘s fears that the report could boomerang politically and affect its efforts to keep its OBC support base intact, sources said.

The commission was set up on October 2, 2017 under Article 340 of the Constitution. It was tasked with sub-categorization of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and equitable distribution of benefits reserved for them. Its initial deadline to submit its report was 12 weeks — by January 2, 2018.

Wednesday’s development comes a month after Social Justice and Empowerment Secretary R Subramanyam told the media that the commission had not sought any more extension. It would submit its report by July-end, when its current term ends, Subramanyam had said.

The move to give it another extension assumes significance also because it comes amid growing demands for a caste census — from opposition parties as well as BJP’s allies in the NDA.

A senior BJP leader, who comes from an OBC community, said the government announced the commission in 2017 as a “knee-jerk reaction”. According to the leader, this is because BJP had seen that only “a few cases enjoyed benefits of reservation”, and these were castes from which leaders of several opposition parties came from —Yadavs, for instance, led by Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and RJD in Bihar; or Jats, led primarily by the RLD and INLD.

“But now that BJP has managed to transcend the caste lines and claim a solid OBC support base, it would not be a good idea to sub-categorise them,” the party leader said. “It is not just Yadavs or Jats (who will come in for further categorisation), but also Kurmis, Kushwahas (among other castes) who are voting for BJP. You cannot limit categorization to a few castes.”

The BJP leader said, “It is difficult to bifurcate and classify them to decide the quantity of quota they would get. Politically, stirring the caste cauldron is not a good idea for BJP after OBCs have become a solid support base in election after election — it will boomerang.”

“I do not think this report will ever see the light of the day,” the leader added.

A member of the commission said: “We are ready with the report and recommendations, but we want feedback from states before submitting it. We want to visit the states and see the situation on ground. The pandemic delayed the process, and in the last six months we have not visited any state.”

“This process is important, as states must have a say. Besides delays due to the pandemic, consultation with states is a big exercise and will take time,” the member added.

Sources said both the commission and the government has had to be cautious with the sub-categorisation process, given the political backlash expected.

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