Lok Sabha Election 2024: Where Political Parties Stand On Reservation And Social Justice

The idea of social justice, through promises of pan-India caste census and assurances regarding reservation, has been making headlines

Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Virendra Sachdeva, President of Delhi BJP along with Leader of Opposition Ramvir Singh Bidhuri makes the Muslim Beneficiaries of PM Narendra Modi's various schemes join BJP at Delhi BJP Office, Pant Marg, on March 2, 2024 in New Delhi, India. Photo: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

This Lok Sabha election, among other things, is being seen as the battle of ideologies. The idea of social justice, through promises of pan-India caste census and assurances regarding reservation, has been making headlines. 

Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi brought in the issue of reservation in election campaign but from a different angle. He has been delivering speeches across the country warning people that if the opposition alliance INDIA, particularly Congress, came to power they will snatch away the reservation provided to SCs (Scheduled Castes), STs (Scheduled Tribes) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and give it to the Muslims. He also alleged that former Prime Minister and Congress leader Manmohan Singh, during his tenure, had said Muslims had first claim on the resources of the country. Later this allegation was found to be untrue when the full video of the original speech by Singh was shared on social media by many users. Singh had, reportedly, said that marginalised communities including SCs, tribals, minorities have the first claim and not just Muslims.

Modi is also, repeatedly, asserting that neither will he allow reservation to Muslims carved out of OBC or reservation for other communities nor he will accept reservation based on religion. He alleged that Congress government in Karnataka gave reservation to Muslims “through backdoor”. He was countered by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who claimed that Muslims are provided 4 per cent reservation in the state but the provision is in place since last three decades.

Congress leader and party’s former president Rahul Gandhi has been raising the issue of social justice for a few months now. In his recent Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, he talked about the lack of participation and representation of marginalised communities in power corridors. During the Yatra addressing the youth at Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, he was quoted by news reports saying that, "Youths like you have no future in this country. Your (OBC, Dalit, Tribal) population is 73 percent, but not even one of the top 200 companies in India is owned by an OBC or Dalit. Only three people are from your category are in the list of 90 top IAS officers of the country. You don't have a single person in the media."

Even while campaigning for the on-going Lok Sabha elections 2024, reservation and social justice based on a caste census are among the major promises he is making to the people. Gandhi has promised that the 50 per cent ceiling for reservation will be done away with if Congress comes to power.  

Both parties have been trying to convince the voters that reservation will be safe under their respective governments while accusing the other of being a threat to it. Congress is alleging that if Modi and the BJP get another chance to form the government at the centre they will end reservation provided by the Constitution. On the other hand, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, both, have been assuring people that no one can touch reservation as long as they have a say in the matter.

Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, has also accused the BJP of ‘weakening’ reservation by furthering the privatisation agenda. He alleged that by handing over operations of many airports to private players or selling Air India or the plans to sell public undertakings such as BSNL, oil refineries etc. will affect reservation.

While the BJP is opposing reservation based on religion, its ally in Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Desham Party (TDP) leader N. Chandrababu Naidu has promised 4 per cent reservation for Muslims in the state, which also voted for assembly along with the Lok Sabha elections in the fourth phase on May 13.

The debate regarding social justice was revived after the findings of the social and economic survey held in Bihar were made public last year. The survey showed disparity in the state vis-à-vis population and representation ratio among upper castes and SCs, STs, OBCs, EBCs (extremely backward classes). The survey claimed that only 15 per cent of the state’s population belong upper castes communities. After the survey findings were made public many political parties including Janta Dal (U), which was part of the Mahagathbandhan RJD and Congress, when the survey was held and published but now is back in alliance with the BJP, wanted to raise the reservation cap percentage in the state to improve representation and participation of communities according to their share in population.   

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in its manifesto has included national caste census. Party leader, Tejashwi Yadav demanded in 2021 for the first time that provision of reservation be expanded to private sector; he has repeated the demand a few times since then.

The Left parties of the country have been demanding that private sector should also adhere to the provision of reservation for a long time. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] in its manifesto says that it “stands for a law for reservations in the private sector and for immediate filling of vacancies in reserved posts without dilution; for protection of constitutional and legal rights of adivasis and an end to cultural assimilation. In order to acquire proper data on the OBCs in the country it is necessary to conduct a caste census along with the 2021 general census that is overdue. It stands for the immediate implementation of one-third reservations for women…”