Even as the Gujarat BJP has engineered Patidar agitation spearhead Hardik Patel’s exit from the Congress, a bolt from the blue that has come from the Gujarat State Election Commission to remove reservations for the OBCs in the upcoming 3,200 gram panchayat polls has become a bone of contention ahead of the December assembly elections.
Citing a recent Supreme Court order, the SEC has written to all district collectors to remove 10 OBC quota of seats from the village panchayat elections and convert them into general category seats.
This has raised the hackles of the BJP-ruled Gujarat Government, which on Friday announced a commission headed by a retired Gujarat High Court judge KS Jhaveri to fix the percentage of OBCs in the State to resolve the issue.
On the other hand, the opposition Congress has immediately grabbed the issue blaming the Gujarat Government for not initiating the process much earlier when the Supreme Court issued the order early this earlier.
According to the Gujarat Panchayats Act, the State has a 10 per cent reservation for OBC communities in the elections of gram panchayats. The SEC Secretary stated in his letter that this directive follows the Supreme Court order of May 10, 2022.
In the order related to local body polls in Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court had stated, “For, until the ‘triple test formality’ is completed ‘in all respects by the State Government, no reservation for Other Backward Classes can be provisioned; and if that exercise cannot be completed before the issue of election programme by the State Election Commission, the seats (except reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which is a constitutional requirement), the rest of the seats must be notified as for the General Category.”
The “triple test formality” mentioned by the apex court as a precondition to make reservations for OBCs in gram panchayats includes setting up of a “dedicated commission to conduct a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua the local bodies” and specifying the “proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of the recommendations of the Commission”. This order was made applicable to all the states.
Grabbing the opportunity, Congress called it a deliberate ploy to mete out injustice to the OBC communities in the State where the government should have initiated the identification process of the community in time.
Senior Congress legislator and former president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), Amit Chavda, told Vibes of India that he has written to Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, saying that despite the passage of six months after the first Supreme Court order in January to set precondition of OBC Commission’s inquiry report to give reservation benefits to the OBC communities in gram panchayats, the government did nothing. Chavda urged the chief minister to ensure this first and until then put off the elections.
Chief Spokesperson of GPCC Manish Doshi accused the BJP of conspiring to finish the reservation of OBC in local body polls.
Giving details, Doshi told Vibes of India, “Towards the end of 2021, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court regarding OBC reservation in the local body polls of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.”
He said the Supreme Court, on January 19, 2022, ordered all states to create a commission to conduct an inquiry upon the proportion of OBC reservations required, and the number of seats, in proportion to the local population. “However, six months after the Supreme Court order, the Gujarat Government has not set up any commission and this will affect the OBC population of Gujarat which forms 52 per cent of the total population,” Doshi said.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat BJP has also issued a statement on the issue while expressing the party’s commitment to the rights and reservations of OBC communities.
Gujarat BJP’s media convener Yagnesh Dave told Vibes of India, “The Gujarat State Election Commission has taken up the procedure to hold elections in the remaining 3,252 gram panchayats of the state in haste without reviewing while keeping in mind the order of Supreme Court. In those elections, the SEC has suggested converting the OBC seats into general seats.”
He maintained that since SEC is an autonomous body, the “BJP will give tickets to OBC candidates. However, we will explore legal options if necessary.”