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OBC Card; A Game Changer!

Bhubaneswar: At a time when the entire opposition is focused on the prevailing law and order situation in Odisha following the January 29 ex-Minister Naba Kisore Das assassination incident, Governing BJD President and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik thought is in a different direction.

Like all the previous elections, Naveen has probably zeroed in on the next surprise and is ready to play the OBC Card during the 2024 general elections for Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly.

Naveen allowed the State Commission for Other Backward Classes to go for the survey enumeration of the community and their socio-economic conditions. He also set a deadline to complete the survey by July 12, 2023, much ahead of the next polls, probably to announce a special package for the OBCs, whose ratio could be over 55 per cent of the state’s population.  

As the state has saved Rs 1200 crore after the Central Government stopped the subsidized rice and made it free for all, the Naveen dispensation could use the entire amount for the welfare of the OBCs, who are certainly a major chunk of Odisha’s voters. This apart, the package could also encourage the poor among the OBCs to get financial benefits like one done under the KALIA scheme for small and marginal farmers. Even landless farmers were covered under the KALIA scheme.

Though the OBC issue during recent times was raised by BJP leader and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who wrote several letters to the Chief Minister for providing reservation for OBCs in elections, jobs and education, the opposition parties could not encash its benefits. Naveen has once again proved smart and his government set up an Odisha State Commission for Backward Classes (OSCBC). 

Prior to that Naveen has also added OBC in the department for ST & SC Development, Minorities & Backward Classes Welfare.Setting up OBC Commission and addition of Backward Class in the Department of STSC Development has given an upper hand for the ruling party leaders to make claim that whatever has been done for the OBC, it had been done by Naveen Patnaik and none others. Therefore, the BJD Naveen is certainly in upper hands in comparison to other opposition parties.    

It is a fact that caste politics do not work in Odisha and many leaders beginning from Bhajman Behera to Srikant Jena, all have utterly failed to gain political mileage even as they claimed to be championing the causes of OBCs. A section of BJD leaders and part of the Ministry today, have also realized that the people of Odisha do not vote on the basis of castes. But, Naveen Patnaik taking the OBC route might have been aimed to defuse attempts by BJP to use caste politics in the ensuing 2024 elections.

However, the fact remained different for Naveen as he is in power and has done a lot, which is not so far achieved by any other leaders. The other leaders who used to make noise over the OBC issue, all along had forgotten the cause of the backward community after they came to power. However, Naveen is different because he is in power and trying to do something positive for the OBCs.

While many people are asking the utility of the OBC Census, the votaries of reservations opine that the youths belonging to the community would get the quota in medical, engineering colleges and also in the government jobs. This will encourage the OBC students and make them at par with other students in the national level. The Odisha OBCs can compete with other such students at the national level.

However, the fact remains that there is no such discrimination among the people of Odisha against OBCs as it is seen few places against dalits. The tribal are mostly treated at par with others. Most of the atrocities cases were linked to dalits in Odisha while caste certificate row is seen among the tribal.

Though the Odisha Government had earlier decided to conduct the survey in May and June 2021 after constituting the Odisha State Commission for Backward Classes (OSCBC), it had to be postponed due to the second wave of COVID-19, officials said.

Meanwhile, the OSCBC had identified 209 communities in Odisha as socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC). The number has now increased to 231 after the state cabinet recently approved inclusion of 22 more castes in the state OBC list.

The state government’s earlier attempt to earmark a 27 per cent quota for OBCs was challenged in the Odisha Administrative Tribunal as it exceeded the reservation ceiling of 50 per cent in respect of ST, SC and SEBC in public employment, as laid down by the Supreme Court. It had to be brought down to 11.25%.

The entire process of the survey in all 314 blocks and areas under 114 civic bodies in the state will be completed by July 12, 2023, Member Secretary OSCBC, Vir Vikram Yadav said in a letter to the Collectors and commissioners of municipal corporations, he said in a letter.

The survey will be undertaken under the supervision of OSCBC and District Collectors and Municipal Executive Officers should prepare and send their survey management plans to the Commission by the first week of March. The plans will contain district profiles, information on survey centers, enumerators, supervisors and other survey-related officers, along with their deployment.

Anyway, Naveen is all set to spring another surprise before the 2024 elections and may use OBC card against the opposition. The BJD government used to play new cards before all the general elections. While Naveen launched the KALIA scheme in 2018 ahead of the 2019 general elections, he introduced Rs 1 a kg rice in 2008 before the 2009 elections. Prior to that he had also managed one election with Rs 2 a kg rice.

As the rice politics has already finished its utility under the changed circumstances and the Modi government announcing free of cost rice under PDS, Naveen virtually got a boon to do something for the OBCs which could not be done due to funds constraints. Now with Rs 1200 crore in hands, the BJD supremo may capture the OBC votes before the BJP could take them to its fold.       

Incidentally, Odisha will be the second state after Bihar to collect data on the socio-economic conditions of people from backward classes. Now, the time will tell whether this move will be a ‘Game Changer’.