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How OBCs have had little say in the Congress party

Despite constituting more than half of India’s population, OBCs have been more or less absent from the top echelons of the Indian National Congress. The party needs to realize soon that it cannot claim to be inclusive without making OBCs real stakeholders

The Indian National Congress (INC) is India’s oldest political party and has been in power at the Centre the longest. The INC has ruled India for about 50 of the 72 years of its existence as an independent nation. It claims to be a ‘secular party’ and has succeeded in providing representation to the different religious communities that make up this nation. Yet, it has largely remained oblivious to the caste divisions that run through the population and across religions. This, even when castes have over millennia set in stone privilege and deprivation. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which make up at least half of the population, never figured in the INC’s electoral plans until its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wooed them and romped home in the 2014 elections. The BJP repeated the feat in 2019, securing a second term with a two-thirds majority.

A 2018 poster in Patna mentions the castes of the office-bearers of the Congress party’s Bihar unit

The disdain for caste representation when the INC was in power at the Centre and the states can be gauged from this anecdote that Lalu Prasad shared during a speech in the 1990s in Aloli village, in Bihar’s Khagaria district. The story involved, Karpoori Thakur, Bihar’s only second chief minister from a party other than the INC. He belonged to nai (barber) caste, one of the most deprived among the OBCs. Lalu said: “When Karpoori ji used to talk about the reservation, people used to respond with mother-sister-daughter abuses. And when I talk of reservation for the Dalitbahujan, before using abusive language, people look around to see if any Backward-Dalit-Adivasi is listening.”[1]

Bhupesh Baghel, chief minister, Chhattisgarh

It is therefore hardly a secret then that OBCs have had little representation in the top echelons of the party, be it the All India Congress Committee (AICC) or the Congress Working Committee (CWC). The party has had only one OBC president so far (K. Kamaraj) and the present CWC has two OBC members (K. Siddaramaiah and Tamradhwaj Sahu). OBCs have been largely missing from even the leadership of the women’s and youth wings of the party, as shown in the tables below:

Table-1: INC Presidents from 1947 to 2019[2]

NameCategory (Caste)State
J. B. KripalaniGeneral (Kshatriya)Telangana
Pattabhi SitaraimayyaGeneral (Brahmin)Andhra Pradesh
P. Das TandonGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Jawaharlal NehruGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
U. N. DhebarGeneral (Bania)Gujarat
Indira GandhiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Neelam Sanjiva ReddyGeneral (Reddy)Andhra Pradesh
K. KamarajOBC (Nadar)Tamil Nadu
S. Nijalingappa General (Lingayat)Karnataka
Jagjivan RamScheduled CasteBihar
Shankar Dayal SharmaGeneral (Brahmin)Madhya Pradesh
Devakanta BaruaGeneral (Brahmin)Assam
K. Brahmananda ReddyGeneral (Reddy)Andhra Pradesh
Rajiv GandhiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
P. V. Narasimha RaoGeneral (Brahmin)Telangana
Sitaram KesriOBC (Bania)Bihar
Sonia GandhiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Rahul GandhiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh

Table-2: Present CWC Members (2019-20)[3]

NameCategory (Caste)State
Manmohan SinghMinority (Sikh)Punjab
Rahul GandhiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
A. K. AntonyMinority (Christian)Kerala
Ahmed PatelMinority (Muslim)Gujarat
Ambika SoniGeneral (Khatri)Punjab
Anand SharmaGeneral (Brahmin)Himachal Pradesh
Avinash PandeGeneral (Brahmin)Maharashtra
G. GaikhangamScheduled TribeManipur
Ghulam Nabi AzadMinority (Muslim)Jammu & Kashmir
Harish RawatGeneral (Rajput)Uttarakhand
Jyotiraditya ScindiaGeneral (Rajput)Madhya Pradesh
Kumari Selja
Scheduled CasteHaryana
K.C. Venugopal
General (Nair)Kerala
K. Siddaramaiah
OBC (Kurwa)Karnataka
Luizinho Faleiro
Minority (Christian)Goa
Motilal Vora
General (Brahmin)Rajasthan
Mallikarjun KhargeScheduled CasteKarnatka
Mukul WasnikScheduled CasteMaharashtra
Oommen Chandy
Minority (Christian)Kerala
Priyanka Gandhi
General (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Raghuveer Singh Meen
Scheduled TribeRajasthan
Tamradhwaj Sahu
OBC (Sahu)Chhattisgarh
Tarun Gogoi
Scheduled TribeAssam

Table-3: Mahila Congress Presidents[4]

NameCategory (Caste)State
Begum Abida AhmedMinority (Muslim)Uttar Pradesh
Jayanti PatnaikGeneral (Kayastha)Odisha
Kumudben JoshiGeneral (Brahmin)Gujarat
Girija VyasGeneral (Brahmin)Rajasthan
Ambika SoniGeneral (Khatri)Punjab
Chandresh KumariGeneral (Rajput)Rajasthan
Rita Bahuguna JoshiGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Prabha ThakurGeneral (Rajput)Rajashan
Anita VermaGeneral (Kayastha)Himachal Pradesh
Shobha OzaGeneral (Brahmin)Madhya Pradesh
Sushmita DevScheduled TribeAssam

Table-4: NSUI: National Presidents[5]

NameCategory (Caste)State
P. KumaramangalamGeneral (Brahmin)Tamil Nadu
G. Mohan GopalOBC (Ezhava)Kerala
Geetanjali MakenGeneral (Brahmin)Delhi
K.K. SharmaGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
Subhash ChowdharyGeneral (Jat)Delhi
Ramesh ChennithalaGeneral (Nair)Kerala
Mukul WasnikScheduled Caste (Dalit-Buddhist)Maharashtra
Manish TewariGeneral (Brahmin)Punjab
Saleem AhmadMinority (Muslim)Karnataka
Alka LambaGeneral (Jat)Delhi
M. NatarajanScheduled CasteMadhya Pradesh
Ashok TanwarScheduled CasteHaryana
Nadeem JavedMinority (Muslim)Uttar Pradesh
Hibi EdenMinorty (Christian)Kerala
Rohit ChoudharyGeneral (Jat)New Delhi
Roji M. JohnMinority (Christian)Kerala
Fairoz KhanMinority (Muslim)Jammu and  Kashmir
Neeraj KundanScheduled CasteJammu and Kashmir

Table-5: Presidents, Indian Youth Congress [6]

NameCategory (Caste) State
N.D TiwariGeneral (Brahmin)Uttar Pradesh
P.R.D. MunsiGeneral (Brahmin)West Bengal
Ambika SoniGeneral (Khatri)Punjab
Ram Chander RathGeneral (Brahmin)Odisha
Ghulam Nabi AzadMinority (Muslim)Jammu & Kashmir
Tariq AnwarMinority (Muslim)Bihar
Anand SharmaGeneral (Brahmin)Himachal Pradesh
Gurudas KamatGeneral (Brahmin)Maharashtra
Mukul WasnikSC (Dalit-Buddhist)Maharashtra
R. ChennithalaGeneral (Brahmin)Kerala
M. Singh BitaMinority (Sikh)Punjab
S.D. GaekwadGeneral (Gaekwad)Gujarat
Manish TewariGeneral (Brahmin)Punjab
Randeep SurjewalaGeneral (Brahmin)Chandigarh, Punjab
Ashok TanvarScheduled Caste Haryana
Rajeev SatavOBC (Mali)Maharashtra
A. Singh RajaMinority (Sikh) Punjab
K.C. YadavOBC (Yadav)Uttar Pradesh
B.V SrinivasGeneral (Brahmin)Karnataka
Siddaramaiah, former Karnataka chief minister and a present CWC member

The implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in the early 1990s – beginning with the reservations for OBCs in public employment – marked the rise of OBC consciousness in the country. The Indian political scene underwent a transformation. Regional political parties like Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal (United), Lok janshakti Party (LJP) emerged, with with OBC and SC leaders at the helm. Yet, the rise of the OBCs in politics did not alter the INC’s way of doing politics.

Tamradhwaj Sahu, chairperson, Congress party’s OBC Department

In 2006, the INC-led United Progressive Alliance announced that the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservation in higher education would be implemented. Soon, 27 per cent seats in higher educational institutions run by the central government began to be set aside for OBCs. Surprisingly, though, the INC did not play up this achievement. In fact, the party got an OBC cell only recently.

Rahul Gandhi visits a temple in Ayodhya

If there is a lesson INC needs to learn from the drubbing in the 2014 and 2019 general elections and a series of state elections, it is that the party cannot afford to overlook the OBCs. The party cannot claim to be inclusive without making them stakeholders. An OBC chief minister in Chhattisgarh and increase in reservation for OBCs in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is a good start but it cannot rest easy yet. A lot more needs to be done to atone for 72 years of neglect.    


[1] Retrieved on 11 August 2019 from https://satyagrah.scroll.in/article/113087/karpuri-thakur-life-and-work-profile

[2] List of names retrieved on 1 September 2019 https://www.inc.in/en/leadership/past-party-presidents

[3] List of names retrieved on 1 September 2019 from https://www.inc.in/en/congress-working-committee/members?page=2

[4] List of names retrieved on 11 August 2019 from https://www.aimc.in/past-presidents/

[5] List of names retrieved on 11 August 2019 from http://nsui.in/leadership

[6] List of names retrieved on 11 August 2019 from https://iyc.in/our-story/

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About The Author

Devi Prasad

Devi Prasad, an IPE-ICSSR doctoral fellow, is currently associated with the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, Hyderabad. He is author of ‘Caste and Biradarism: An Analysis through Biradari Bhoj’ (2014, Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany)