Patna: Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan recently surprised everyone in the political circles when he demanded a 15 per cent quota for the economically backward among the upper castes.
“Poor among the upper castes also need facilities like that of dalits and the backward classes. That is the reason why our party has made a suggestion that 15 per cent reservation should also be given to the economically backward from the upper caste,” Mr Paswan said.
His statement came at a time when several political parties are trying to woo the dalits as a potential vote bank.
Mr Paswan, however, clarified that the suggestion was made on behalf of his party and it has nothing to do with the NDA government.
The suggestion from the LJP could reframe the debate on caste and reservations in the country. Analysts are of the view that Mr Paswan’s demand will not only influence a large chunk of upper caste voters in Bihar but it may also have an impact in other states as well.
In Bihar, the upper castes are estimated to be over 10 per cent of the population.
Analysts say that they were earlier the traditional voters of the Congress but switched their loyalties to the BJP after the Mandal commission recommendations and remained with the saffron party despite desperate wooing by regional parties like the JD(U) and the RJD. But, Mr Paswan is not the only political leader to demand quota for the upper castes. JD(U) minister Jai Kumar Singh was also recently heard as saying that “quota for the financially backward upper caste is necessary”.
Political leaders supporting the demand are of the view that dalits and the other backward castes would have no problem with such reservations for the economically backward among the upper castes “if it is not taken from their existing quota”.
“We are not opposing reservations for dalits but we have made our demands because a large section in the upper caste also requires reservations to move ahead in life,” Bihar industry minister Jai Kumar Singh said.
The JD(U) minister also suggested that the Centre should form a commission for assessment of economically backward among the upper caste.
Political analysts say that such a demand gained momentum after Bihar witnessed incidents of violence during Bharat Bandh on April 2 and April 10 — one that was led by dalits and another one by upper caste groups. Interestingly, Bihar Rajya Swarna Aayog set up in 2011 to look into the grievances of the economically backward among the upper caste has not yet sent any recommendations to the state government regarding quota for them.
According to JD(U) spokesperson Niraj Kumar, Bihar became the first state to set up Swarna Ayog and provide facilities like that of backward castes to below poverty line (BPL) students of the upper castes.
“Our government is already working hard for the development of the poor among the upper castes. Facilities like scholarship and student credit card are already there for economically backward students in Bihar. The Centre must also work in this direction,” the JD(U) spokesperson said.
He, however, also tried to downplay the demands made by JD(U) leaders. He said that “few political leaders might have given the statements in their personal capacity our party has not yet come up with any such demands”.
Political leaders supporting the demand for quota for the poor among the upper castes are of the view that dalits and the other backward castes would have no problem with such reservations ‘if it is not taken from their existing quota’
Bihar became the first state to set up a panel to provide facilities like that of backward castes to below poverty line (BPL) students of upper castes