As of now, even the Government of India does not have a clue about the proportion of the OBCs in the population. The data being used is from the 1931 Census. According to that census, the OBCs formed around 52 per cent of the country’s population. The fact that the OBCs were never counted for almost a century shows how issues related to the majority of the population have been put on the back burner by those in power.
Those willing to stand up and be counted as advocates for the rights of the OBCs are even less in the BJP, a party of the upper castes. Ganesh Singh is one of them: “Why do we need to hide who we are? We are the OBCs. I am from the Kurmi caste. My father Kamalbhan Singh was an ordinary farmer. My mother’s name is Phoolmati Devi. I am fortunate that my parents are still around to bless me. My father is educated up to Standard 5 or 6. We are four brothers and three sisters. I am the eldest among the brothers. One sister – Indravati Singh – is elder to me. Vimla Singh and Rekha Singh are my younger sisters. Among my brothers are Gulab Singh, Sanjay Singh and Umesh Pratap Singh. One of my brothers, Sanjay Singh, succumbed to Covid last year. I have done everything that a member of any farmer family would do. I have tilled the land along with my father. I have done weeding and harvesting. I have looked after cattle. I have even taken cattle for grazing. If I hadn’t worked, who would have shared my father’s workload? I did all this and studied, too.”
An English daily had carried a story in its issue dated 9 December 2017. Based on the response to an RTI query, the story said that among the employees of 25 (of 37) departments of 24 Union ministries and 8 constitutional bodies (Prime Minister’s Office, President’s Secretariat and Election Commission of India), the percentage of OBCs in Group A, B, C and D posts was just 14 per cent, 15 per cent, 17 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively.
According to G. Karunanidhi, president, All India OBC Federation, the share of the OBCs at all levels, including Group A posts, is far from adequate – this when three decades have elapsed since the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.
We need to dwell on the reasons for this predicament. Karunanidhi says that the government’s policies with regard to OBCs were never inclusive. They were based on ostracization. He cites an example: He says that a case was filed in the Supreme Court to stall the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. It is known as the Indira Swahney versus Union of India case. As soon as it came up for hearing, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the government’s decision to grant 27 per cent reservations to the OBCs. The stay continued for almost two and a half years. Ultimately, a seven-judge bench pronounced the judgment in the case, capping total reservation quota at 50 per cent.
At the time, Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. OBC politics was on the rise and the government could sense it. It appointed an experts’ committee. Among its members was P.S. Krishnan, a former secretary to the Government of India. It was after the recommendations of this committee that on 8 September 1993, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued an office memorandum saying that salary income and income from agriculture would not be taken into account while calculating the annual income to ascertain whether a person belonged in the creamy layer and therefore was not eligible for the OBC quota.
Karunanidhi says that the situation has gone from bad to worse. For instance, On 10 August 2021, the Lok Sabha unanimously approved the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill. This gave the states and the union territories the right to draw up their own list of OBCs. The Rajya Sabha had given its nod to the Bill on 9 August 2021. During the passage of the Bill, a “division” was sought in the Lok Sabha, which was allowed by the speaker: 385 members voted in support of the measure and none against. During the discussion on the Bill, there were demands for holding a caste census and raising the upper limit on reservations from 50 per cent. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill said that there was a need to amend Articles 342A, 338(B) and 366 of the Constitution.
The fact is that the Bill was moved to make amends for a mistake made by the central government. The BJP-led NDA government had made a provision that the right to include or exclude castes from the OBC list would rest with the Centre. This provision was being questioned. On 5 May 2021, the Supreme Court had made a significant comment vis-à-vis this provision while hearing a case challenging reservations for the Maratha community.
There is yet another example of the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards OBC reservations. This pertains to the B.P. Sharma committee. In 2020, the B.P. Sharma committee, constituted by the DoPT, recommended that the annual income upper limit for the determination of creamy layer be raised from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh but agricultural and salary income be included in the annual income.
The report caused a fair degree of consternation in the political circle. Some OBC leaders and intellectuals questioned it. Ganesh Singh, MP from Satna, Madhya Pradesh, and then chairman of the Standing Committee on OBCs in Parliament, was one of them. This was significant as Ganesh Singh, who was considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had pointed fingers at his own party’s government and had indirectly questioned the motives of Jitendra Singh, the minister in charge of DoPT, who is said to be a Rajput.
Questions were also raised on the Modi government picking B.P. Sharma to head the committee, when the prime minister describes himself as a member of the Ghanchi (OBC) caste. Sharma is an upper-caste Bhumihar Brahmin. It was almost a rerun of the Jawaharlal Nehru government appointing Kaka Kalelkar, a Brahmin, as the head of the first OBC Commission.
Writing about the DoPT, which is a department under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, P.S. Krishnan, has made a revealing comment: “The Ministry of Personnel, the nodal body for the implementation of reservation in the Centre and for issuing guidelines to and monitoring of State Governments in the matter of reservation, is directly under the Prime Minister. But, as the Prime Minister is busy with his multifarious and overall responsibilities, it has been a practice to appoint a Minister of State in that Ministry, who works under the Prime Minister’s overall charge. That Minister and counterpart ministers in state governments should be persons with stature and commitment to the Constitution belonging to SCs or STs or SEdBCs.
“The Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Personnel, and counterpart officers in State Governments, should be officers with freedom from bias and history of personal integrity belonging to the SCs or STs or SEdBCs. If the Minister is from a SC or ST, the Secretary should be from the SEdBCs, and vice versa. Among other officers in the Ministry in the rank of Additional Secretary, Joint-Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Director, Under-Secretary, Section Officer dealing with reservation, and among their counterparts in State Governments, there should be officers with history of freedom from bias, belonging to these three communities in such a manner that together they should be at least 50% of the total, including women officers of these social classes. Each of these three social classes should be represented and all the three should not be mixed up, providing a loophole to avoid one or the other social class as has happened with regard to the Lokpal legislation in which 50% was prescribed for SCs + STs + SEdBCs + Minorities + Women, thereby providing a handle in the recent filling up of posts in the Lokpal in such a way that there is no representation for STs and SEdBCs.” (A Crusade for Social Justice: Bending Governance towards the Deprived, P.S Krishnan in conversation with Vasanthi Devi, South Vision Books, whose Hindi translation Bharatiya Karyapalika Mein Samajik Nyaya Ka Sangharsh, Ankahi Kahani, PS Krishnan Ki Jubani has been published by Forward Press, New Delhi)
Be that as it may, when FORWARD Press had talked to Ganesh Singh over the phone regarding the B.P. Sharma committee in June 2020, he said: “Yes, this issue was raised. The thing is that equivalence between the posts in the Central and the State Governments should be decided. But that has not been done because of which a large number of OBCs are being deprived of government jobs. This issue involved the rights of the OBCs working on posts under the state and central government and especially in the public sector undertakings. Many such cases came up before me. They included cases of OBC candidates selected in UPSC examinations. Since either the mother or the father of these candidates worked in PSUs and as the equivalence of their posts was yet to be decided, they were placed in the creamy layer – this when the parents of most of them were Class Four employees. As many such cases came to my knowledge, my committee passed a resolution. I had drafted the resolution after giving a careful hearing to all the parties. I had invited the state governments, too, to the meeting and after hearing them out we sent the resolution to the government. It was on the basis of the resolution that the B.P. Sharma committee was constituted. The report gathered dust for quite a long time. Then, I resent the resolution. That was when the report was put up before the Group of Ministers. After discussion in the Council of Ministers, the proposal was made to raise the income ceiling for creamy layer from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh.”
Ganesh Singh has been very conscious about the rights of the OBCs. Pappu Yadav is associated with railways employees union. He says whenever they met Ganesh Singh, he gave them a patient hearing. “We raised many issues pertaining to the OBC employees of the railways and he took the initiative to resolve them. He even got recognition for the union of OBC railway employees. He also took several initiatives at the national level for solving the problems of the OBCs. He took us with him and provided us a platform.”
Shashank Ratnu’s comments about Ganesh Singh are significant. Shashank had cleared the UPSC exam in 2016 through OBC quota but he is yet to be appointed as an IAS officer. The issue pertains to the problem of equivalence of posts in PSUs held by the parent(s) of the candidate with those in the central government departments. Shashank is also a lawyer and is pleading his case himself. About Ganesh Singh, he says: “He is a man of courage. His speciality is that he is very sensitive about issues related to the OBCs. As chairman of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on OBCs, he took several initiatives for the welfare of the OBCs. He even attacked the bureaucrats. Perhaps, that is why within the BJP he is perceived as a leader who is anti-bureaucrats. Otherwise, there was no reason, given his positive attitude towards the OBCs, Ganesh Singh should not have been inducted into the Union ministry.”
Shashank adds: “Many problems faced by the OBCs were resolved during Ganesh Singh’s tenure (19 July 2016 – 25 May 2019). He ensured 27 per cent reservations for the OBCs in Navodaya, Sainik and Kendriya Vidyalayas. This was something no one had given a thought to. But very few know how Ganesh Singh got it done. He doesn’t believe in self-publicity. But he has some shortcomings, too. One is that he lacks technical knowledge and for that he is dependent on his associates. The fallout of this was that the report of the standing committee headed by him was tabled in the House on the last day of the session. Had the bureaucrats/associates supported him, it was possible that the report would have been tabled earlier and it would have come up for discussion. Had that happened, many obstacles in the path of the OBCs would have been removed.”
Was it a mere coincidence that the report of the Parliament Standing Committee on OBCs was tabled in the House on the last day of the session and there was no discussion on it? What happened to the recommendations made by the committee? Ganesh Singh is considered a vocal, heavy-weight MP.
A.K. Sarkar, president of Reserve Bank of India OBC Association, says that Singh raised issues pertaining to the OBCs from every platform. As chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, he put the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and even the Prime Minister’s Office in the dock.
One pertinent question here is whether the OBCs are only destined to play the role of kingmakers in the BJP. The BJP has always been trying to divide the OBCs. In Bihar, it drove a wedge between the Yadavs, the biggest chunk of the OBCs, and the other OBC castes like Kurmi and Koeri. Although, it was the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who was actually the first to successfully implement the strategy. He forged a non-Yadav OBC front and in 2005, succeeded in driving out Lalu Yadav from power in the state. It was Nitish Kumar who came up with the concept of Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) among the OBCs and now the BJP is following in his footsteps. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s politics is revolving around non-Yadav OBCs.
Born into a farmer’s family in Khamaria village of Satna district, Madhya Pradesh, on 2 July 1962, Ganesh Singh has been representing Satna in the Lok Sabha since 2004. In 1995, he was elected as a member of the Zila (District) Panchayat and in 1999, as its chairman. He is among the few people’s representatives who began their political career in the local bodies and rose to become Members of Parliament on their own strength. Rakesh Singh, a freelance journalist from Satna, explains how Ganesh Singh’s politics stands out: “He accords the highest priority to interacting with the people. When he is in Satna, there is hardly a day that goes without him meeting people. He has a system in place. Whenever anyone approaches him with a grievance, the details are noted down and then the person gets to meet Ganesh Singh to personally explain the issue. Singh tries to resolve the problem on the spot. He also follows up on the complaints received. Say, someone complains to Ganesh Singh that his land has been usurped; the MP first verifies the truth of the allegation and then talks with the official concerned. Subsequently, he will follow up the matter till the land is restored to its rightful owner.”
Ganesh Singh has a good physique and an attractive personality. He is also interested in sports. He plays volleyball and badminton. He organizes the MP’s Trophy tournament in his constituency. The tournament is played all the way from the village to the panchayat to the district level. He says that he wants to get a big stadium built in Satna and the work is underway.
Ganesh Singh says that for him, Satna is more important than Delhi. “I stay in Delhi only when there is some meeting or Parliament is in session. Otherwise, I live in my constituency. The Winter Session of Lok Sabha has ended today and tomorrow I am leaving for Satna,” he says.
An MP who doesn’t have an RSS background must be finding it difficult to adjust in the BJP. Can a person be a votary of social justice and reservations while remaining in the BJP? Does the RSS allow this privilege to its Dalit and OBC workers?
Bhanwar Meghwanshi, who was associated with the RSS but later bid goodbye to it owing to rampant casteism and caste-based discrimination within the organization, says: “The RSS has been opposed to social justice and equality from the very outset, though it has been misleading the people by talking about social harmony. Just read what Golwalkar and Hedgewar have written and you will discover that none of them supported reservations. During the run-up to the Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections, Mohan Bhagwat talked of reviewing the system of reservations. That cost the BJP dear and that is why now he is saying that till there is inequality, reservations will continue. He has said this officially in his book Yashashvi Bharat. But this is only on paper. Bhagwat is saying this only because he wants to be politically correct. In practice, the RSS is a diehard opponent of reservations. As for the Dalits and the OBCs in the RSS, you can yourself see how many of them are allowed to represent the organization. The entire structure of the RSS is anti-Dalit and anti-OBC.”
In 1992, after the collapse of the V.P. Singh Government, Sharad Yadav had taken out a Mandal Rathyatra throughout the country. A young Ganesh Singh was in charge of the Yatra in Madhya Pradesh. He used to deliver fiery speeches supporting the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations. He worked hard to strengthen the Yuva Janata Dal in Madhya Pradesh. He says: “I had socialist leaning. At one time, I was the state president of the State Yuva Janata Dal.” Then, how and when did he get drawn towards the BJP? He says that in the year 2000, public resentment against the Congress government led by Digvijay Singh was growing. “Under the leadership of Uma Bharati, a strong anti-Congress wave was building in the state. At that time, BJP leaders asked me to join the party. I accepted the proposal and took membership of the BJP. The BJP gave me respect. I was asked to contest the assembly elections. But I turned down the offer saying that first I would like to get acquainted with the leadership of the party and build my popular base. Then, in 2004, the party fielded me as its candidate from the Satna parliamentary constituency. My main rival was Congress’s Satendra Singh. The people gave me the opportunity to serve them.”
Ganesh Singh is not the only BJP leader to have joined the struggle for the rights of the OBC. Former Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot was one of them. As a minister, he, too, took some key initiatives. However, he was never as vocal as Ganesh Singh is. At present, Gehlot is the governor of Karnataka.
Santosh Khare had taught Ganesh Singh when the latter was studying for his MA LLB in Satna Law College. A Leftist, Khare says that as a student, Ganesh Singh was very disciplined. “He always had many questions. Even after he became an MP, his behaviour remained unchanged. His party’s policies might be pro-capitalists and communal but Ganesh Singh is different.” Recalling an incident, Khare says he happened to meet Ganesh Singh at a programme in Satna. Singh was the chief guest at the event. “But when he saw me, he greeted me respectfully and shared his reminiscences about me in his speech,” Khare says.
Ganesh Singh stays in touch with the people of his constituency and is sensitive towards the issues of the deprived. He describes his own challenging student days. He says: “I was married to Mona when I was studying in the sixth grade. The ‘gauna’ was held when I was studying for my intermediate exams. I had responsibilities but I wanted to study further. Once, our area was struck by drought. I borrowed some money from my wife and the rest from my mother and set out on foot for Satna, which was 23 km from my village, Khamaria. I could have travelled by bus but I did not want to spend the little money I had on the fare. In Satna, I, along with my friends Chakrabhan Singh and Mahipal Singh, rented a room. I completed my education in law from Awadhesh Pratap Singh University, Rewa and Law College, Satna. Chakrabhan and Mahipal had been my friends since our high school days in Kotar. They lived in Kotar, which was 7.5 km away from my village. There was a river on the way and sometimes I would swim to reach the school on the other side. In Satna, we three friends cooked food on a chulha. Few know that I had worked as a daily wage labourer in the Forest Department. I used to get around Rs 2,500 a month and would meet my expenses with that.”
Ganesh Singh becomes emotional while talking about his family. He says: “We brothers and sisters had to face lots of hardships. I got my siblings educated and arranged their marriages … now our family has progressed. One of my granddaughters-in-law is the chairperson of the Satna district Panchayat and a nephew is an IAS officer. All this has become possible due to education.”
Sudhanshu, an assistant professor in Delhi University, says: “Among all the Parliamentary Standing Committees on OBCs, the one chaired by Ganesh Singh was the best. It has submitted a very good report to the government on the creamy layer. It has also proposed a complete framework for fixing the equivalence of posts in PSUs for determining the creamy layer. That was something which should have been done in 1993. Reservations for OBCs in the Kendriya Vidyalayas and the Sainik Schools is another major contribution of his. There was no reservation for the OBCs in the Navodaya Schools, established by Rajiv Gandhi. He worked hard to secure this. During recruitment to Delhi University, when OBC candidates were being rejected saying ‘not found suitable’, Ganesh Singh came forward and took note of the issue.”
How did he manage to do all this? Ganesh Singh smiles. “I had to do it. The party had given me the responsibility. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given me the responsibility. How could I have not done what I did? But it is also a fact that bureaucrats are not sensitive on some issues. So, once in a while, I gave them an earful. But I have good relations with them. I am grateful to all the members of the committee. They might have been from different political parties but they were united on issues pertaining to the OBCs,” he says.
But didn’t he feel hurt when the government, instead of acting on the report of the committee headed by him, constituted another committee under the leadership of B.P. Sharma? Ganesh Singh disagrees. “No, it was not as if the government did not take action. I had recommended the raising of the income cap for creamy layer from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 15 lakh. The government has decided to raise it to Rs 12 lakh. I took the initiative on reservations for OBCs in Sainik Schools. I approached authorities at every level for this. I also met the Honourable Prime Minister. He accepted our proposal. The same thing happened with respect to Navodaya Schools. The Prime Minister agreed with the proposal. So, it can’t be said that the government did not take action on our report. The Sharma committee was appointed by the DoPT. This was the department’s decision. But when the committee proposed that income from agriculture and salary be also added to the annual income, I opposed it. I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and requested others to raise their voice. Just think of it – if farm and salary incomes are added to the annual income, OBC reservation will become meaningless. Anyway, at present, it is just a proposal. The government has not accepted it.”
Ganesh Singh takes a middle path on the issue of caste census. His party, the BJP, is opposed to the idea. But he says that instead of caste, the census should be conducted on the basis of the official category. He says: “Instead of caste-wise counting, people can be counted on the basis of the category they belong to. You can ask the caste of the person, and there should be a column in the census form under which it can be marked ‘OBC’ if that person’s caste falls under OBC.”
Sachin Rajurkar, a young social activist from Maharashtra, says: “What Ganesh Singh ji did as the chairman of the OBC committee was historic. The way he opposed the recommendations of the B.P. Sharma committee and wrote a letter to the PM shows that he is a sensitive and sensible representative of the OBCs. But his logic about the caste census doesn’t have a basis. When Scheduled Caste people are counted, their caste is also recorded so that we know the population of the different castes. Then why mark only ‘OBC’ in the case of the Other Backward Classes? This is against his party’s stance. The central government led by his party has appointed the Rohini Commission for sub-categorization of the OBCs.”
The photos of President Ramnath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President J.P. Nadda adorn the walls of the office at Ganesh Singh’s residence, 8, Rakab Ganj Road, New Delhi. He says, “My concern is for my people. I should prove useful to them. I should raise my voice for their rights. These are my responsibilities as a people’s representative. When I do all this, it gives me great happiness.”
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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