Race to backwardness: Congress, BJP are misusing constitutional provisions

With the election cycle gathering speed, the two main political parties in the country are putting up an unfortunate exhibition of petty politics. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, smarting from a shock defeat in the crucial Lok Sabha by-elections of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, announced last week that his government was considering providing quotas within existing quotas to the most backward classes (MBCs) and Maha Dalits (the most backward among Dalits) in government jobs. His aim is simple: Wean away voters from the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which have traditionally represented the other backward classes and the scheduled castes, respectively. Mr Adityanath is not alone in this pursuit. Earlier in the month, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah tried to checkmate the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run-up to Assembly elections scheduled for May by proposing that his government would declare the Lingayat sect a separate religious minority. 

The Congress government in Karnataka has placed the proposal before the BJP-led central government for official recognition. Mr Siddaramaiah has been at it for long — his attempts to woo the Lingayats have included ordering pictures of Basavanna to be put up in all government offices, and setting up a university in the name of 12th century Lingayat poet and teacher Akka Mahadevi. The chief minister obviously wants to gain some political currency with the Lingayat community, which had stopped backing the party in the 1990s after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi forced the abrupt exit of Lingayat chief minister Veerendra Patil.  On its part, the BJP is stumped because its candidate against Mr Siddaramaiah is B S Yeddyurappa, who belongs to the Lingayat sect. The Lingayats, who make up close to 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population, can play a decisive role in at least 100 Assembly constituencies in the state, and its leaders expect that this carve-out from Hinduism will enable them to benefit from several constitutional provisions that allow greater freedom to religious minorities. Unsurprisingly, they have declared that they will not take kindly to any party — in this case, the BJP, which they have backed traditionally — that opposes the Congress’ move. The BJP, which typically tries to consolidate the Hindu vote bank in order to win, is left with a Hobson’s choice — either annoy the Lingayats or fragment its voter base.

The Constitution has, rightly, provided several safeguards to religious and linguistic minorities as well as the Scheduled Castes and other backward classes. For instance, Article 30 of the Constitution enunciates the right of minorities, whether based on religion or language, to establish and administer educational institutions. Similarly, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. However, there is no attempt at addressing the concerns of an aggrieved community in either Mr Adityanath’s or Mr Siddaramaiah’s move. What is on display, instead, is abuse of constitutional safeguards by the two main political parties of the country. There is no denying that there are genuine concerns indeed among the most deprived sections of the OBCs or SCs, or for that matter, the Lingayats. But it is unfortunate that the tool adopted for addressing them is not more responsive governance but realpolitik.

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