Decode Politics: Amid row over Bihar quota hike scrapping, how JD(U), BJP, RJD may play

android, decode politics: amid row over bihar quota hike scrapping, how jd(u), bjp, rjd may play

In a blow to the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar, the Patna High Court on Thursday struck down its November 2023 move to raise quotas for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) from 50% to 65% in government jobs and educational institutions.

The court's verdict has heated up Bihar politics at a crucial juncture, with the Nitish-led JD (U) having emerged as a critical NDA ally in the recent Lok Sabha elections in which the BJP fell short of a simple majority.

Here is a look at the political ramifications of the court's verdict in Bihar.

Why HC quashed govt move

The high court set aside the government's move to hike quotas – by amending two laws – on various grounds, making it clear that population percentage cannot form the sole basis for it, merit cannot be totally compromised, and the move infringed upon the Constitution's provisions for the right to equality. Another reason for the court's decision to strike down the government's decision – which was dubbed a “Nitish master stroke” – is the Supreme Court-stipulated quota ceiling at 50%.The HC called enhancement of quota beyond 50% "bad in law based on principles of equality". The court was not convinced with the state government justifying the quota increase in light of the findings of the Bihar Caste Survey 2022-2023. The state proceeded on the mere proportion of population of different categories as against their numerical representation in government services and educational institutions, the court said, adding that the government's argument went against the core principles of Articles 15(4) & 16(4) of the Constitution dealing with the right to equality.

Much Read | Caste survey a step closer in Jharkhand, though timeline remains

Why Nitish raised quota cap

With the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national scene since 2014, the quota politics of social justice parties – the RJD and the JD (U) in Bihar and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh – was blunted, with the BJP under PM Modi's leadership focusing on the expansion of its support bases among the OBCs and EBCs at the expense of the socialist players.

Despite his frequent switchovers, Nitish always looked for an issue that could keep him ahead in state politics, irrespective of the alliance that he would form. After his liquor ban policy, brought in April 2016, did not get much traction, Nitish had been looking for a major plank.

Following his return to the NDA in 2017, Nitish got the Bihar BJP on board on the issue of caste survey. After the Bihar Legislature passed a unanimous resolution in this regard in 2020, he led an all-party delegation in August 2021 to Delhi to meet PM Modi over their demand for a nationwide caste census. Though the BJP at the Centre did not favour it, the party's Bihar unit was on the same page as other major parties of the state.

After the Centre later turned down this demand, the Bihar government decided to conduct its own caste survey in 2022 at an expense of Rs 500 crore. Nitish was then heading the Mahagathbandhan government which included the RJD and the Congress as major allies.

In the wake of the submission of the caste survey report in 2023, the Nitish government went for hiking the quotas to 65%. The RJD also sought to share credit in its slogan of "social and economic justice". The BJP, then in Opposition, had to back the decision too. It was advantage Nitish.

With 10% Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota, brought by the Centre, added to it, Bihar's quota cap rose to 75%.

What the verdict means for parties

The JD (U) is upset over the court's order. Though it has not yet taken a call, the Nitish government is expected to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

By winning 12 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, the JD(U) has emerged as a key player on the national stage too, given the Modi government's dependence on the party as well as the N Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP (16 seats).

Nitish had first demanded the inclusion of the Bihar quota hike laws in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution when he was part of the Opposition INDIA bloc. He is set to do it again as a major BJP partner.

The 9th Schedule of the Constitution includes a list of Central and state laws that cannot be challenged in courts.

In his reaction to the court's order, JD (U) MLC and spokesperson Neeraj Kumar told The Indian Express: "There are many legal points involved. We are reading the verdict to decide our future legal course. Quota cap hike has been a sensitive legal issue. We offered a strong reason for quota hike on the basis of caste survey findings. It is up to legal experts now to suggest the way forward.”

JD(U) national general secretary K C Tyagi, however, said, “The reservations crossed 50% mark when the Centre brought in EWS quota. In Tamil Nadu and several other states too, the reservation is over 50%. We will take whatever steps necessary to restore it. These were brought under the Nitish formula and is an ideological commitment for us. We want this to be included in the Ninth Schedule so that no one can challenge it further. We will take every step necessary for justice to the disadvantaged sections of the society."

The principal Opposition RJD is up in arms over the court order, even as it has got a potent political ammunition against the NDA government.

RJD leader and ex-Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav told reporters: "We demand CM Nitish Kumar to lead an all-party delegation to meet PM to demand that quota hike decision be included in 9th Schedule of the Constitution."

Taking a swipe at Nitish, Tejashwi also said: "Nitish ji has bowed to PM several times. Let him bow to the PM one more time for the sake of Bihar."

On its part, the state BJP has taken a cautious stance on the issue. A senior BJP leader said: "It is up to the CM to decide if the state government should challenge the high court verdict in Supreme Court. We had supported both Bihar caste survey and quota increase."

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