Saturday, July 20, 2024

Biju Janata Dal regime in Odisha has an anti-OBC mindset, says Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is all set to conduct a comprehensive survey of the social and educational conditions of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which constitute close to 54% of the State’s population. Ahead of next year’s Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the BJD and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are trying to champion the cause of the OBCs. Union Minister for Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan has been a strong critic of the State government’s failure to provide 27% reservation for OBCs in education and government jobs. He spoke about the BJD government’s “abdication” of its constitutional responsibility of protecting the rights of the backward classes. Excerpts:

Why are you critical of the Naveen Patnaik government over the reservation issue?

It is simple. The Mandal Commission had recommended 27% reservation for OBCs in education and jobs. The BJD regime historically has had an anti-OBC mindset and is the only government in the country that has not provided reservation for the backward classes.

Why do you say the BJD has an ‘anti-OBC mindset’?

Biju Patnaik, BJD founder and former Chief Minister, had moved the Supreme Court against the implementation of the OBC quota. The father-son duo has ruled the State for 29 of the 34 years since the V.P. Singh government provided reservation for OBCs. They even withdrew political reservation for such communities. What more proof does one need that this government is against OBCs?

Have you received any response to the three letters you had written to the CM on the quota issue?

I am yet to receive an acknowledgement. The government has failed to take all political parties into confidence to resolve the quota issue. The government might be dragging its feet because it assumes it does not depend heavily on OBC votes. I belong to the OBC community and it is my duty to raise awareness of the issue.

The government often cites the 50% cap on reservation. Is it difficult to extend benefits to OBCs?

In  Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled that reservation cannot cross the 50% limit unless a special case is made out to relax the rule. In Maharashtra, all political parties came together to provide 27% reservation for OBCs in local body polls. Though the apex court later struck it down, the government had shown intent. Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have made similar efforts. However, Odisha has used the court’s ruling as a pretext for not providing reservation. There is no reservation in education, the quota in jobs is not spelt out clearly, and reservation in local body polls has been stalled.

What is your position on the OBC survey?

The government is not conducting a survey, but collecting information. A survey involves door-to-door visits, but the government has proposed collecting data from a designated place such as common service centres or government offices. This method has drawbacks. For instance, one third of Ganjam district’s OBC population migrates for work. How will people provide information if they are not present in the village?

What role will the OBCs play in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections?

This issue should not be viewed from the prism of electoral gains. The OBC population has been deprived of its legitimate rights. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power as people transcended religious and caste barriers to vote for him. For the first time, the national commission for OBCs was given constitutional backing, OBCs were given reservation in AIIMS, IITs and NITs, and 27% quota for OBCs was implemented in the allotment of fuel stations and gas agencies. There are 27 Ministers in the Union Cabinet representing OBCs, showing the government’s commitment towards the backward classes.

You have expressed a desire to contest an election from Odisha. Have you chosen a seat?

Yes, I am in favour of fighting a direct election. However, my party will take a call on it. Unlike other parties that are helmed by dynasts, the BJP is cadre-based. The leadership will decide on the best way I can contribute to the party’s growth.

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