The Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBC) of Uttar Pradesh played an important role in the recently concluded state assembly elections. The Jat agitation of Haryana is causing quite a stir and the Patel agitation in BJP-led Gujarat is far from being over.
The NDA government has given its assent to a proposal that will lend constitutional backing to a new commission that will look into OBC issues and concerns. The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), which had been set up in 1992 (following a Supreme Court ruling) will be dissolved and replaced by the National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (NSEBC).
This commission will now be responsible for examining the various demands for inclusion into OBC quota and respond appropriately.
What comes as a surprise, though, is the fact that apart from setting up the NSEBC, the government has set out to make it a constitutional body by amending the Constitution.
To undertake such a constitutional amendment and to add Article 338B (dealing with the organisation and functions of the NSEBC), the government will require the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Parliament and will also need the ratifications of half the members of state assemblies.
But Why a Constitutional Body?
The Supreme Court ruling which led to the establishment of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) leaves the working of the commission to the discretion of the government (working in the name of the President).
A constitutional amendment will make the NSEBC a rather permanent institution like the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The NSEBC will have the authority to survey and examine the truth to claims such as the one raised by Jats (demanding that the community be classified as an OBC).
It will also be the ‘go-to’ body for receipt of complaints about inclusion to the backward classes list. The government will then be bound by its recommendations. The NSEBC’s structure is likely to be similar to that of the NCBC; with a chairperson at the helm, a deputy chairperson and three members.
There are a number of important questions here that warrant thorough assessment.
At a time when the quota system itself is being questioned, is constitutional amendment a necessary move for the development of the country?
Is this a move to please the Patels of Gujarat in the light of the upcoming assembly elections in the state?
Will the government gain the approval of the Rajya Sabha, where it lacks majority?
Will the state assemblies approve?
We must wait and watch as the answers unravel.