NEW DELHI: Subject to politically charged and conflicting claims, the mist over the percentage of OBCs in the population might have lifted a bit with an official survey revealing that backward castes account for around 38.5% of the rural populace. Tamil Nadu tops the OBC chart with 54.37% of rural households (HH) belonging to backward category. Uttar Pradesh has 51.78% rural HHs in OBC bracket. It is 37% in the Mandal powerhouse of Bihar while Chhattisgarh may be seen as a surprise with 50.37% of households surveyed belonging to the OBC category. Importantly, while a national figure of 38.5% falls well short of Mandal Commission estimates of 52%, they tally with an NSSO survey which pegged OBC population at around 35%.
The findings are part of an exercise which scanned all rural households as part of BPL survey 2002 whose results have come in recently. The results are a dampener for torchbearers of backward politics who believe the OBC numbers are at least 50%.
Congress MP Hanumantha Rao, convener of the OBC parliamentary forum, said, “We want a census. The OBC population is much higher than what rural household survey has revealed.” He said while job and education quota was frozen at 50%, there was need to “expose how OBC population was high but handful of upper castes was ruling the power structures”. The call for a caste census has the backing of OBC leaders like Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Fifteen key states where backwards are a crucial socio-political factor have shown demographics on expected lines. An extrapolation from rural estimates – which cover almost 72% of the country – for an entire state may dilute OBC share a bit as bulk of backwards are agrarian communities in the countryside.
The survey by rural development ministry gives a peep into OBC numbers after a protracted debate on what really is their proportion in population.
The 52% figure given by Mandal Commission has been doubted as it was based on an extrapolation from the last caste census of 1931 – by eliminating non-OBC communities from total population. The issue blew up in 14th Lok Sabha when a parliamentary committee questioned the rationale of allocation of funds for OBC welfare without knowing the group’s numbers. It called for a caste survey, kicking off a sharp duel among political players and government.
Of the total 67,12,006 rural HHs in Gujarat, 30,09,109 reported OBC status – 44.83%. The exercise in Andhra found 55,35,997 OBC HHs out of total 1,27,52,234 (43.41%); 43,13,699 OBC HHs out of total 92,16,953 (46.80%) in Rajasthan. Haryana (28.16%), Punjab (20.60%), Maharashtra (14.54%) are on the lower side.
The 15 states form the bulk of OBC as their share in Uttarakhand and the north-east is negligible.
Accurate OBC numbers are only of academic value in the reservation debate as the 50% quota ceiling makes it unlikely for OBC share to be brought in sync with the proportion of population.
But politically, these figures could be explosive, because while they may not reduce the clout that backward politics has come to acquire, it does limit its projection. The surge in OBC politics after Mandal report only added to their rising authority, with a new crop of backward leaders breaching what were till then upper caste forts like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and MP.
Tamil Nadu, the land of early OBC assertion, has had strong Mandalite polity for a long time while Karnataka too made the shift in the 70’s.
The survey may add to succession debate in Andhra where the turf war is dominated by Kammas and Reddys, but backwards have a strong numerical muscle.
Subodh Ghildiyal, TNN 14 September 2009