Patna HC Scraps Bihar Quota Hike: What It Means For Political Groups

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Patna HC Scraps Bihar Quota Hike: What It Means For Political Groups

| Updated: June 21, 2024 20:32

The Patna High Court on Thursday overturned the November 2023 decision to increase the quotas for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) in government jobs and educational institutions from 50 per cent to 65 per cent, dealing a blow to the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar.

With the Nitish-led JD (U) emerging as an important NDA ally in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP failed to secure a simple majority, the court’s ruling has heightened tensions in Bihar politics at a critical point. This article will discuss the political repercussions of the court’s judgement.

Reason Behind Court’s Decision 

The high court set aside the government’s act to hike quotas – by amending two laws – for multiple reasons, making it clear that population percentage cannot serve as the sole foundation for it, merit cannot be compromised, and the move violated the Constitution’s provisions for the right to equality. The Supreme Court’s mandated 50 per cent quota ceiling was another factor in the court’s decision to overturn the government’s decision, which was referred to as a “Nitish master stroke.”

A 50 per cent quota increase was deemed “bad in law based on principles of equality” by the HC. The state government’s argument that the quota hike was justified by the Bihar Caste Survey 2022–2023 findings failed to convince the court. The court ruled that the state had proceeded based only on the population’s proportion of various categories rather than their numerical representation in government services and educational institutions, and that the government’s reasoning contradicted the fundamental concepts of Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution, which deal with the right to equality.

Why State Govt Raised Quota 

The quota politics of social justice parties, such as the RJD and JD (U) in Bihar and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, were reduced with the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national scene in 2014. Instead, the BJP, led by PM Modi, concentrated on growing its support base among OBCs and EBCs while reducing the number of socialist players.

Nitish would often swap sides, but no matter what kind of partnership he formed, he would always search for a cause that would allow him to maintain his advantage in state politics. After his liquor ban policy, introduced in April 2016, failed to gain much traction, Nitish had been looking for a major move.

In 2017, Nitish rejoined the NDA and won the support of the Bihar BJP for his caste survey agenda. He led an all-party team to Delhi in August 2021 to speak with PM Modi about their desire for a national caste census, after the unanimous resolution voted by the Bihar Legislature in 2020 on the matter. The BJP’s Bihar unit was in agreement with other significant parties in the state, despite the party’s opposition at the national level.

The Bihar government opted to carry out its own caste survey in 2022 at a cost of Rs 500 crore after the Centre eventually rejected this proposal. At the time, Nitish led the Mahagathbandhan government, which included the Congress and the RJD as important partners.

Following the submission of the report on the caste census in 2023, the Nitish administration decided to increase the quotas to 65 per cent. In addition, the RJD attempted to divide the credit for their slogan, “social and economic justice.” The move also needed the support of the then-opposition BJP.

Bihar’s quota ceiling increased to 75 per cent as the Centre added a 10% Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota.  

Good or Bad Verdict For Parties? 

The court’s ruling has upset the JD (U). The Nitish administration is anticipated to fight it in the Supreme Court, even though it has not reached a decision yet.

Given the reliance of the government under Modi on both the JD(U) and the TDP led by N Chandrababu Naidu (16 seats), the party has become a major force on the national scene after securing 12 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.

When Nitish was a member of the Opposition INDIA alliance, he first called for the Bihar quota hike laws to be included in the Constitution’s 9th Schedule. As a significant BJP ally, he intends to repeat the act.

The Constitution’s 9th Schedule involves a list of Central and state laws that cannot be challenged in courts.

In response to the court’s order, JD (U) MLC and spokesperson Neeraj Kumar told a media outlet: “There are many legal points involved. We are reading the verdict to decide our future legal course. The quota cap hike has been a sensitive legal issue. We offered a strong reason for the quota hike on the basis of caste survey findings. It is up to legal experts now to suggest the way forward.”

JD(U) national general secretary KC Tyagi, however, said, “The reservations crossed the 50% mark when the Centre brought in the EWS quota. In Tamil Nadu and several other states too, the reservation is over 50%. We will take whatever steps are necessary to restore it. These were brought under the Nitish formula, and are an ideological commitment for us. We want this to be included in the Ninth Schedule so that no one can challenge it further. We will take every step necessary for justice for the disadvantaged sections of the society.”

The main opposition RJD is furious at the court judgement and has strong political tools at its disposal to oppose the NDA government.

RJD leader and ex-Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav said: “We demand CM Nitish Kumar to lead an all-party delegation to meet PM to demand that the quota hike decision be included in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution.”

“Nitish ji has bowed to PM several times. Let him bow to the PM one more time for the sake of Bihar,” he added. 

A senior BJP leader took a very cautious stance, saying that ‘it is up to the CM to decide if the state government should challenge the high court verdict in the Supreme Court. We had supported both the Bihar caste survey and the quota increase.’

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