Starting off with a grandiose plan to convert a hundred ancient and medieval Indian cities, including Ahmedabad and Varanasi, into Smart Cities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to the nation’s signature political reality:the caste conundrum. After his move to grant reservation to economically backward forward castes, India again faces the socio-economic and political churning and the challenges that the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations threw up in the 1990s.

In 1991, the then politically-buffeted PM Vishwanath Pratap Singh played the Mandal-I card, prompting BJP veteran LK Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya Rath yatra to push for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, as the large parts of India witnessed anti-reservation agitations by the “upper castes”. Modi was Advani’s aide in the Gujarat leg of this yatra. Indian politics underwent a sea-change with the assertive OBCs empowered with 27 per cent reservation.

Rise of OBC leaders

Several OBC leaders — including Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ramvilas Paswan and Shivraj Singh Chouhan — have been children of the new caste combinations that replaced the erstwhile leadership of the “upper caste” Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars, among others, particularly in North India. In this socio-political churning, the Congress, India’s then single-dominant party, lost huge vote banks, triggering political tremors.

Modi himself is a product of Mandal-I asi his Ghanchi caste of oil-extractors was included among the OBCs in the 1990s in Gujarat. Curiously, a ‘forward’ caste leader, VP Singh, had provided reservations to the OBCs. Twenty-seven years later, Modi is leading the single-dominant party (BJP), and has provided quota to the economically-weaker sections in the “upper castes”.

According to the recent global reports, India is set to emerge as the world’s third largest economy after China and the US by 2030, pushing down Britain, Japan and Germany. Here lies the big challenge to its political leadership in the Modi and the post-Modi era: Will it be able to balance assertive socio-political aspirations with economic and educational empowerment?

10 per cent quota

Some indications were visible in the two-day debate on the 124th Amendment to the Constitution in Parliament. Union Minister Ramvilas Paswan said the number of jobs in government were vanishing; Union Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, who piloted the Bill, said there was a backlog of vacancies. Some leaders demanded that the OBCs’ quota be doubled from 27 to 54 per cent in line with their perceived population while others feared that the fresh quota could jeopardise the existing ones. Former Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal wondered why no surveys of castes were undertaken before announcing the 10 per cent quota for the general category. “In fact, Odisha has only 6 per cent population in the upper caste category, who have been given a 10 per cent quota,” he said.

Clearly, the outcome of the next Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2019 notwithstanding — the euphoric BJP is expecting this decision to be a game-changer — stresses and strains spawned by this Mandal-II decision could emerge sooner than later. VP Singh had “sacrificed” his government after Mandal-I. Will Modi be able to harvest a rich dividend after Mandal-II? Or, is India entering into another phase of political chaos like in 1991?

The BP Mandal Commission was set up in January 1979 by the then PM Morarji Desai, prompting some States to set up their own panels to identify the beneficiary castes. In Gujarat, the Madhavsinh Solanki government set up the Bakshi Commission in 1981. It took another two decades for the Centre to implement the Mandal report. .

The Modi Government rushed the Bill and also got it passed in Parliament in three days.

Since 2014, how many cities have turned smart? Has Varanasi turned into Kyoto?

In Gujarat, only 10 per cent of farmers have agreed to part with their land for Modi’s dream project — the bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai — for which Japan had promised to provide funds.

Therein lies a message!