A historic decision was announced on 29 July 2021. The Union Health Ministry issued a notification declaring that the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) would get 27 per cent reservations in all-India quota seats in medical education institutions run by state governments from this academic session. Ten per cent of the seats will be reserved for the Economically Weaker Sections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about the decision. The news spread like wildfire on social media. The OBCs heartily welcomed it. It was a big victory for them. Now, politics is being done on the issue.
Who should get the credit for this achievement? Different people have different takes. For some, M.K. Stalin is the hero; while others say that Sonia Gandhi or Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav deserve the credit. There is nothing wrong with this. This is normal. The credit for any major success is collective. And this is indeed a major achievement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has admitted that the decision would benefit 5,500 OBC candidates every year.
Not just the credit, but also the liability needs to be apportioned. For example, who is responsible for 40,800 seats meant for the OBCs going to Savarna candidates over the years?
Clearly, the Modi government will continue to be criticized for taking so long to grant the OBCs their due. Another question is that by granting OBCs their right, has the Modi regime done any favour to them? Modi is being thanked for Covid-19 vaccination and for many other things. It is possible that in the days to come, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may launch a campaign to say “Thank you to Narendra Modi for giving reservations to OBCs in NEET.”
Lesser-known contributors to the success
History remembers the achievers. This is the time to respectfully remember the people and the organizations whose incessant hard work turned 29 July 2021 into a red-letter day for the OBCs. M.K. Stalin and his party, the DMK, his lawyer P. Wilson and many relatively unknown individuals contributed to this major success through their unwavering commitment to the cause and their relentless effort. One such lesser-known person is Shantidas Sahu. Born in Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh and educated in Bhilai, Sahu is a social activist. At present, he is working as an “operator” for a PSU. Over the past four years, FORWARD Press has carried many stories on OBCs being denied their rights in NEET and Sahu has been associated with Forward Press since 2017. Sahu used information obtained under the Right to Information Act to raise the issue at the national level.
Sahu says that NEET for admissions to medical education institutions was launched in 2013. At the time, one of his friends, Shailendra Wagde, an engineer who lives in Madhya Pradesh, told him that injustice was being done to the OBCs in NEET. Sahu used the RTI Act to seek information on the issue and shared it with OBC organizations all over the country. Babanrao Taywade, a leading Maharashtra Congress leader, who helmed an organization called Rashtriya OBC Mahasabha, came to hear about it and moved the Mumbai High Court on the issue. However, the court refused to intervene. That happened in 2015. He challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which, at the time, was hearing the case of Saloni Kumar versus DGHS (Writ petition number 596/2015). Given how alike the two cases were, the apex court merged them. Subsequently, many other organizations, including Janhit Abhiyan, New Delhi, joined the litigation in the Supreme Court as interveners. The case is still pending. Meanwhile, Chhaya Verma, a Rajya Sabha Member from Chhattisgarh, also raised the matter.
G. Karunanidhi gets cracking
The efforts being made by Sahu – a tenacious but reserved fighter – impressed G. Karunanidhi, the national general secretary of All-India Federation of Other Backward Classes Employees’ Association. Karunanidhi also went on to contribute immensely to this success of the OBCs. Sahu gives the credit for the success to OBC organizations and activists from all over the country. But it was this committed social activist who consistently petitioned everyone of consequence, right from MPs to the Prime Minister, on the matter and it was on the basis of information that he provided that many political leaders raised the issue.
Stalin’s tweet did the trick
Talking about his organization’s role, G. Karunanidhi told FORWARD Press over the phone that since 2017, they have been actively lobbying on the issue of OBCs being denied their rights. They were the ones to circulate the information that between 2017 and 2020, the OBCs lost 40,800 seats. The organization made the data public on 16 May 2020 and a tweet by M.K. Stalin, then leader of opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, based on these figures, became viral, triggering deep resentment among the OBCs in Tamil Nadu. His organization also moved the Madras High Court last year seeking reservation for OBCs in the All-India seats in medical education institutions of Tamil Nadu. On 27 July 2020, the high court ruled in favour of the OBCs and directed the Centre to form a committee to ensure that OBCs get 27 per cent reservations in seats in medical education institutions run by state governments.
Centre’s doubtful intentions
Various political parties of Tamil Nadu moved a joint petition in the Supreme Court demanding that reservations in All-India quota seats in Tamil Nadu be granted in accordance with the reservation policy of the state. Tamil Nadu has 69 per cent reservations. The Supreme Court asked all the petitioners to approach the Madras High Court and declined to comment on the plea. In keeping with the Madras High Court order, the Centre constituted a committee headed by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Government of India. The chairman of the Medical Council of India was also part of the committee. The committee submitted its report to the government in September 2020. Yet, the Union Health Ministry, in its notification dated 13 July 2021 inviting applications for NEET, did not make any provision for reservations for the OBCs. The notification said that the government had decided to submit the report of the committee to the Supreme Court in the matter of Saloni Kumar versus DGHS (Writ petition number 596/2015); that the Supreme Court had yet to pronounce its judgment in the case, hence a decision on reservations for OBCs in the All-India quota seats in medical education institutions run by the states would be taken only after the Supreme Court gave its verdict.
Government left with no option
Following the notification, Karunanidhi said, the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu filed a contempt of court plea against the central government in the Madras High Court. While hearing the petition, the high court, on 19 July 2021, admonished the Centre and asked it to take a decision on the matter as soon as possible. The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, told the high court that the matter was under consideration at the highest levels in the government. The court then scheduled the next hearing for 2 August 2021.
According to Karunanidhi, this left the Government of India with no option and that was why, on 29 July 2021, four days before the date of hearing, it notified reservations for the OBCs. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi had convened a high-level meeting on the issue.
Be that as it may, both Karunanidhi and Sahu say that this is a collective achievement, which would open new opportunities for a large number of OBC youth. Karunanidhi says he is also grateful to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for accepting his request and writing a letter to Prime Minister Modi on 3 July 2021 demanding reservations for the OBCs in the All-India quota seats of medical education institutions run by the states.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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