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Why OBCs are backward

Twenty-five years after Mandal Commission’s recommendations were implemented, only 12 per cent of the jobs are with the OBCs. To start with, 52 per cent of the population got only 27 per cent reservation, which has been further reduced to 12 per cent in practice. Shrawan Deore explains how things came to such a pass

 (We present an edited version of the presidential address of Marathi writer and social activist Shrawan Deore at a function held in Azam Campus, Pune. The function, held under the auspices of Mandal Yug Rashtriya Vichar Parishad and Saytashodhak Prabodhan Mahasabha, Maharashtra, marked 25 years of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Printed copies of the speech were distributed to the audience at the function. We will publish the speech in three parts – one dealing with the period from Independence up to the imposition of Emergency, second from Emergency to the implementation of the Mandal Commission report and third, from then on to the present. Here is the first part.)

On 14 April 2016, I was invited to speak at a function held at the Government Engineering College, Jalgaon, Maharashtra on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti. It was also an occasion to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule. Since the programme was scheduled in the forenoon, I had to reach Jalgaon the previous night. Rajendra Sapkale, vice-president of the Jalgaon unit of Satyashodhak OBC Parishad, hosted me. Earlier, too, he had invited me to stay with him. That morning, before the function began, I had a chance to talk with his family. His son, who seemed quite content and happy, had to quit his studies midway and take to his family’s traditional occupation of haircutting. I asked him why did he did not complete his education. Had he not done so, he replied, his family could not have managed after his father’s retirement. He also had a question: “Even if I had completed my education, would I have got a job?” I had no answer.

Jotirao Phule (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890)

On the one hand, an OBC, with little formal education to boast of, holds the top position in the country and claims that he is a force to reckon with – not only in the country but also globally. Then on the other hand, innumerable OBCs are being forced to fall back on their traditional occupations to fill their stomachs. This is the state of affairs 25 years after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report.

Murlidharan, an RTI activist from Tamil Nadu, had sought information about the share of OBCs in jobs under different departments of the Government of India. The government’s reply to the RTI query was published on the front-page of the national daily The Times of India[1]. According to the information supplied, 25 years after the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, only 12 per cent jobs are held by the OBCs today. Thus, OBCs, who form 52 per cent of the population, are given 27 per cent reservation and end up with only 12 per cent of government jobs. If this is not a conspiracy, then what is it?

Even this figure of 12 per cent is misleading. As soon as the first recommendation of the Mandal Commission was implemented, all governments – at the Centre and in the states – began compiling the number of OBCs in their ranks. Even employees recruited before 1993, who had not benefited from reservations, were counted among them. To cover their tracks, the governments immediately started issuing OBC certificates to all of them.

B. P. Mandal submits the report of the commission he chaired to then president Gyani Zail Singh

It was amusing that after 1993, people had to shell out bribes, anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 50,000, for an OBC certificate. Whereas OBCs already employed by the government promptly got the certificates dispatched to their homes and office addresses. There was a reason behind this hurry. The governments wanted to show that the OBCs were already a big percentage of their employees and subsequently, bring down the number of vacant posts reserved for them in future recruitments. That is why the claim that implementation of the Mandal recommendations led to the OBCs getting 12 per cent share in government jobs may be far from true. In fact, some experts say that over the past 25 years, barely 4.5 per cent OBCs have entered government services, courtesy of reservations. And these include many made-up OBCs from the Maratha, Jat and Patel communities.

The real OBCs – belonging to the mali (farmer and gardener), badhai (carpenter), nayee (barber), dhobi (laundry-men and -women), dhangar (shepherd), and patharwat-vadar (stone-breaker) – have remained marginalized. There still exists many a hurdle in their path. They cannot spend thousands of rupees on acquiring a caste certificate and then go through another ordeal for obtaining the non-creamy layer income certificate. All of this adds to the disillusionment faced by the OBC youth and the feeling that education won’t fetch them a job.

Prime Minister Morarji Desai set up the Mandal Commission on 1 January 1979

From the time the Constitution came into force, the SCs and STs got reservations in proportion to their population. Even the corresponding laws and rules were strict and the commissions formed for overseeing the implementation of measures ­meant for their welfare were vested with wide powers. That was why this provision brought positive results. This is not to say that the SCs and STs weren’t victims of a conspiracy and that they got all the benefits they were supposed to. But the OBCs suffered more due to the conspiracy.

Table: Caste-wise literacy rate in Bombay state

Se NoCaste 190119111921 1931
1Maang0.100.400.50 1.00
3Lohar2.503.103.60 7.50
7 Brahmin-- 40.3055.30

Source: Census of India

What was this conspiracy? Let us try and understand it. The dawn of every new era brings with it a change in the socio-cultural-economic systems of different communities or groups and that leads to a change in their identity too. But in India, the domination of Manuvadis (proponents of casteism) ensured that as far as the backward communities are concerned, this change was nothing to write home about. Europe witnessed a revolution against feudalism, and slavery was effaced from the face of the continent. Though the former slaves still remained victims of the ruling-exploiter class, the social system stood overhauled. Industrial Revolution followed and that ended the exploitation of the workers. In countries that witnessed Communist revolutions, the exploited working class of the capitalist order became the ruling class. But India never saw such transformational changes (barring the Buddhist Revolution, whose impact was limited).

In the past 5,000 years, no one in India has given up his (varna-caste) identity. The Brahmin, no matter how corrupt, was not ready to step down from his high pedestal and a Shudra, no matter how valiant, could never become a Kshatriya. A Shudra, even if he was the repository of all the wisdom in the world, could never hope to attain “Brahminhood”.

Even at the height of the Buddhist Revolution, which sought to end the varna system, the rulers of Kaushal and Magadha complained that Brahmins still considered them as Shudras[2]. Over time, means and modes of production developed but the forces of production and their relations remained unchanged. The Buddhist Revolution was aimed at ending the varna system but the labourers of the Shudra varna later organized themselves into “Shrenis”, which subsequently emerged as different castes of skilled artisans. Thus, Buddhism became the dhamma of the forces of production but as the production relations remained in the brahmanical mode, the revolution had a limited impact. Still, as D.D. Kosambi tells us, the artisans and labourers freed from the shackles of varna during the Buddhist Revolution brought about a seven-fold increase in production[3]. Even the Communist and the Industrial revolutions in Europe were no match for the Buddhist Revolution, as far as philosophical transformation and cultural awakening are concerned. The OBCs contributed majorly to these changes. Rock inscriptions detailing the huge donations made to innumerable Buddhist Viharas by the artisans – the ancestors of the present-day OBCs – stand testimony to their contribution[4]. Upali Nayein, a leading protagonist of the Buddhist Revolution, is still considered to be a representative of the OBCs of today. Even the Shakya Gana of Gautam Buddha were ancestors of the present-day Mali caste. “Kunbis who did rain-fed farming, Gadarias who reared cattle and did farming and the Malis who grew horticultural crops, all come from the same labour class (caste),” wrote Tatyasaheb Jotiba Phule[5]. Even today, there are many Mali families in north India with the surname “Shakya”[6].

Broadly speaking, it can be said that as far as the OBCs are concerned, though there were some changes, no cataclysmic transformations came about. Backward Classes (BC) is a legalese term – a new identity conferred on this community by the Constitution[7]. Broadly, OBCs can be defined as: “The rural (touchable) castes-varnas, which directly or indirectly depend on agriculture for their livelihood and which have their own means of production.” Many scholars believe that since the OBCs are not homogenous they cannot organize themselves[8]. However, even the communities that constitute SCs and STs are not homogenous, nor are the upper castes, including the Brahmins. But due to their common vested interests, the castes that constitute these groups are living in competitive coexistence. Since the upper castes wield power, their vested interests are always under threat, for they have much to lose. That is why, the upper castes, as a class, appear to be stronger, well-organized and aggressive. But the factors that bind the OBC communities are entirely different. They include natural economic interdependence and instinctive cultural unity.

Representation of OBCs, SCs and STs in Group A and B posts in 55 departments of the Government of India (as on 1 January 2013)

PostTotal numberOBCSCST
Group A74,8668,316 (11.11%)10,434 (13.94%)4,354 (5.82%)
Group B1,88,77620,069 (10.63%)29,373 (15.56%)12,073 (6.4%)

Source: Annual report of Department of Personnel and Training, 2014-15

As farming was the source of livelihood for the OBCs, their economic interests were interdependent. A farmer’s plough couldn’t be made without the help of the carpenter and the ironsmith, and only after the crop is harvested and sold would the farmer be able to pay the carpenter and ironsmith for their labour. Such interdependence is not found in other sections of society. Records show that the habitations of SCs and STs were generally outside the village while the Patils and Deshmukhs (Kshatriyas, Brahmins and Muslims) lived on elevated plateaus (gadhis) or in self-contained havelis. The OBCs inhabited the fringes of the villages and their houses had common walls. They intermingled and shared the joys and sorrows of each other for centuries.

This symbiotic relationship also led to they celebrating their festivals together. Take the example of festivities such as Khandesh, Kanabai, Rot, Bhaldev-Baliraja and Pittarpat-Shraddha Paksha – these festivals are linked to nature and the OBC community jointly celebrates them. That is why the cultural unity of the OBCs is the strongest among all sections of the population and the Brahmin camp is extremely fearful of this unity. It is due to this deeply ingrained fear that the Brahmins symbolically murder Baliraja on the day of Dusshera[9].

In every age, the OBCs, as a class, were rebels. During the times of Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule, the OBCs or the “Shudras” revolted against the brahmanical system as ‘Satyashodhaks’. During Shivaji’s reign, they took up swords as “Shoor Mavla” and established “Swaraj” (self-rule) through a rebellion. Earlier, it initiated a spiritual revolt against the religion of Manu through “Warkari”. It continued to challenge brahmanical Hinduism by establishing sects such as Tantra, Shakta and Nath. The OBCs were the soldiers of the Buddhist Revolution. They organized themselves as “Shrenis”, and as mentioned earlier, by enhancing their production capacity, they gave a strong economic foundation to the Buddhist Revolution[10]. The OBCs are the toiler-descendants of the most ancient glorious Sindhu, Nag and Dravid cultures. They have been perennial rebels – whether as inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization, as Dravidians, as Nags or as followers of Baliraja. They fought many a battle under the leadership of Bali and his descendants to halt the marauding hordes of Aryan invaders.

Until the ever-evolving caste system fashioned the concept of untouchability, all the toiling classes were Shudras and artisans. They rose to become kings, chieftains and inamdars (a feudal title awarded during the British and Peshwa rules) and when their titles were taken away, they were again demoted to the Shudra fold[11].

The valiant OBCs, despite being part of a glorious tradition, have become weak and helpless today[12]. At the same time, their representatives such as (Narendra) Modi and Lalu (Yadav) have acquired political power. So, if we assess the impact of the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations over the past 25 years, are the OBCs better or worse off? Can a handful of people entering the portals of political power be considered a mark of progress?

What did the OBCs gain as a group and as individuals post Independence? The answer to this question is painful. On the eve of Independence, the OBC movement was at its peak under the leadership of Periyar in the Madras state in the South and under the leadership of R.L. Chandapuri in the North. The then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru tried his utmost to break both the movements. Nehru offered Chandapuri a berth in the Union Cabinet twice. Indira Gandhi did too, once. But the veteran OBC leader turned down all such offers. Nehru even resorted to buying Chandapuri, by offering funds for the construction of hostel buildings, but his OBC self-respect never allowed him to fall into such traps and gave the brahmanical camp a run for its money. He was lured, threatened, and efforts were even made to breach the unity of his followers. It went so far as attempts on his life, twice. Ultimately, the rebellion weakened after Dr Punjabrao Deshmukh was appointed a minister at the Centre. Deshmukh was persuaded to part ways with Chandapuri and then Nehru used him to dismantle the OBC movement across the country.

Socialist leader R.L. Chandapuri

In the post-Independence era, Lohia had forged an alliance with Chandapuri and a new youthful OBC leadership had emerged. The nationwide movement, launched by both Chandapuri and Periyar, helped train future leaders who went on to become Chief Ministers in states like Tamil Nadu and Bihar way back in 1967.[13] If Brahmin socialists like Madhu Limaye had not sabotaged the revolutionary alliance forged between Lohia, a Bania, and Chandapuri in 1959[14], the country would have been very different from what it is today. The socialist Brahmins found in the RSS their “natural ally” and the caste system ensured they stayed away from any conditional arrangement with Chandapuri. Why blame the poor socialists? They have carried out this shameful act time and again. They are not ashamed of it even today. The socialists were at it again ten years later. They re-enacted their despicable political game after the Janata Party government came to power in 1977 and was on the verge of implementing Mandal Commission’s recommendations.

They brought down the Morarji Desai Government in 1979, over the fear of the Mandal Commission report being implemented. Comrade S.M. Joshi writes in his autobiography: “The Janata Party government had constituted the Mandal Commission in the wake of agitations by OBC leaders. Had the Janata Party Government lasted its full term, the Mandal Commission report would have been implemented.”

Joshi, in his book, gives a detailed description of who did what to bring about the fall of the Janata Party government. He writes that all Constitutional bodies and persons were working hard to bring about the collapse of the government, leaving Morarji helpless. It seems everything was scripted. The first pro-OBC Central government of the country was pulled down in just two and a half years, before it could accomplish its historic objective of implementing the Mandal Commission’s recommendations. Many other state governments, including those of Gujarat and Bihar, were also brought down due to the blind opposition to OBC reservations. Though Morarji’s government was pulled down citing Article 365 of the Constitution, the act in itself was motivated by the Sloka 4.22 of the Manusmriti[15].

Ambedkar and Periyar

Indira Gandhi, who came to power next, pursued an even more aggressive anti-OBC policy and consigned the reports of the Mandal Commission and Kalelkar Commission to the dustbin. As clamour grew for reservations, the brahmanical lobby was now more vigilant than ever. It knew that the strategy that helped it win earlier battles would not work in future caste wars. Given the changing situation, it knew that it would be difficult to suppress or ignore the OBC leadership. The reason was simple: The growing awareness among OBCs meant ­­­­a new generation of Balirajas would be ready to take on the brahmanical camp anytime. The RSS had begun to believe this was a possibility. When Chandapuri mobilized three lakh protestors for a march in Bihar, it sent shivers down the spine of the brahmanical lobby. The deployed CRPF personnel’s reaction was to launch a cruel assault on the protestors, earning the notoriety of the “second Jallianwala massacre”. Even a German TV channel ran a detailed story on the assault[16].

As revolutionary OBC leaders from the Chandapuri school such as Jagdev Prasad Kushwaha and Lalai Yadav, and Periyar’s Dravidian organizations got down to work, the RSS devised a two-pronged strategy to blunt the mass movement. First, they promoted a new, alternative OBC leadership within the RSS-BJP and then used these OBC leaders to foment communal violence after labelling them as Hindus. After the Indira Gandhi government rejected the Mandal Commission report, the OBC movement became more aggressive. Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi announced 33 per cent reservations for women so that he could put the issue of OBC reservations on the back burner.

Meanwhile, the RSS continued to vigorously implement its two-pronged strategy but it was no match for the vigour of the OBC movement. Chandapuri even issued a call for a “second freedom struggle” to secure reservations for the OBCs. In Tamil Nadu, OBCs formed their government on their own strength. Given the situation, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had to himself further the two-point RSS-BJP agenda. Rajiv Gandhi’s twin moves of nullifying the Supreme Court decision in the Shah Bano case and opening the doors of the Babri Masjid were part of a conspiracy to boost the RSS’ two-point agenda.


[1] The Times of India, 27 December 2016, p 1

[2] Satyashodhak Marxvadi, December-January 1984-85, p 30

[3] Sharad Patil, Jativyavasthak Samanti Sevkatva, Vol 2, P 92

[4] Sharad Patil, Jativyavasthak Samanti Sevkatva, Vol 2, P 92

[5] Mahatma Phule Samagra Vangmay (Marathi), ed Dhananjay Keer, S.G. Malshe, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Aur Sanskriti Manda, Revised third edition, 1988, p 203

[6]   In many villages in the Mainpuri, Farrukhabad and Etah in northeastern Uttar Pradesh, 30 to 60 per cent of the families have the surname ‘Shakya’. They all consider themselves Malis (gardeners). Gurnam Singh Shakya, a member of the Satyashodhak Golmez Parishad, shared this information with us. According to Sonelal Patel, founder of the Apna Dal, the ancestors of the present-day Kurmis and Kunbis made up the Koliya Republic, which fought against the Shakyas.

[7] Constitution of India, Article 16(4) and 341

[8]   Prof Vilas Vagh, in preface (p 7) of Maratha Samaj Ka Obeeseekaran Aur Jati-Ant Ke Neeti by Shrawan Deore

[9]   Gulamgiri, English preface, (footnote p 76) in Mahatma Phule Samagra Vangmay, ed Dhananjay Keer, S.G. Malshe, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Aur Sanskriti Manda, revised third edition, 1988

[10] Sharad Patil, Jativyavasthak Samanti Sevkatva, Vol 2, p 92

[11] Satyashodhak Marxvadi, December-January 1984-85, p 30-31

[12] Under feudal and semi-feudal system, classes facing economic hardships sometimes resorted to revolt on religious or ethnic grounds. Whether such revolts were good or bad depended on who was leading them.

[13] Second Freedom Struggle: Chandapuri’s Call to Overthrow Brahmin Rule, May 2003, p 100, 101, 104

[14] Ibid

[15] Dr Pradeep Gokhale, Vishamta Ka Puraskarkata Manu, Sugawa Prakashan, pune, p 7

[16] Second Freedom Struggle: Chandapuri’s Call to Overthrow Brahmin Rule, May 2003, p 29

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About The Author

Shrawan Deore

Shrawan Deore became associated with the progressive movement in 1978 while he was still in college. He joined the movement for the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1982. He has been elected the vice-president of the Maharashtra OBC Association. In 1999, Deore set up the OBC Seva Sangh for the OBC Employees and Officers and became its general-secretary. He is often the main speaker and chief guest at events organized in different parts of Maharashtra to raise awareness among the OBCs.

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