Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.
- Boris Pasternak
Several Tribal and Dalit rights organisations observed an all-India bandh recently against the Supreme Court order on their eviction from their habitat. Several Bahujan groups became part of the protests, especially in view of the Supreme Court’s recent dismissal of a review petition on a 13-point roster, which will allegedly affect the chances of SC, ST, and OBC candidates to take up faculty posts in universities. At a time when an aggressive stance post-Pulwama terror attack has provided a political impetus to the government, it faces a tricky quota issue which if not dealt with immediately may reduce its standing among the crucial SC, ST and OBC voters ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. So, following the Bharat bandh, the BJP-led NDA government, in its last cabinet meeting before the dates for national elections are announced, cleared an ordinance, which will overturn the January 22 order of the Supreme Court, to roll back a controversial new system for faculty recruitment in universities and colleges, which activists say drastically reduces the number of reserved seats. The controversy began in 2017 when the Allahabad high court said the entire institute couldn’t be the unit to determine reservation. In 2018, the University Grants Commission issued new guidelines under the 13-point roster, triggering protests. The Centre challenged the HC order but the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on January 22 and the ordinance will also be the second time the government has effectively rolled back a court order in the face of protests by the SC-ST communities.
There is no denying that implementation of the apex court’s order would have led to a drastic reduction in the number of reserved category posts in higher educational institutions. However, the Ordinance, which is being seen as the latest in a slew of measures by the government to woo voters ahead of the general elections this summer, is aimed at pre-empting any anger among the OBC, the SC and the ST voters over this controversial quota issue. The ruling BJP seems to be in dilemma – on one hand it has bring the ordinance to pacify SC, ST and OBC voters and on the other it has to announce reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among upper castes to win back the divided but previously loyal supporters among upper castes. Yet, the question is: What was the hurry about bringing the Ordinance?
Coming to forest dwellers’ issue, BJP, while realising the political cost of tribal eviction, has made a U-turn and asked its state chief ministers to swing into action and file review petitions. As the Lok Sabha elections are around the corner, such a large scale eviction of tribals might trigger a major agitation which the mainstream parties could not afford at this juncture. The BJP would not like to see itself on the wrong side of the public opinion when it comes to a sensitive issue like eviction of 10 lakh tribals, especially in an election year.