Explained: The OBC Row Kicked Up After Rahul Gandhi's Remark On PM Modi’s ‘Caste’

Rahul Gandhi said that Modi was made a PM to “fool” all backward-class communities.

| Photo: PTI
Rahul Gandhi during his 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' | Photo: PTI

Addressing the last day of the ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ in Odisha, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi sparked a caste controversy when he claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not from the Other Backward Class (OBC) and that he has been “misleading people". He was delivering a speech on Thursday in Odisha’s western town of Jharsuguda.

Gandhi’s statement was quick to draw sharp reactions from the political leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

This comes after Modi’s recent statement in the Parliament where he called himself 'sabse bada OBC' (the biggest OBC) and accused the Congress of indulging in hypocrisy and adopting double standards while dealing with leaders of backward communities.

What did Rahul Gandhi say?

“Modi ji has been misleading the people by saying that he is an OBC. He was born in a family of the ‘Ghanchi’ caste, which was included in the OBC list during the BJP government's tenure in Gujarat in 2000,” Gandhi said, adding, “He changed his caste to OBC after becoming the CM of Gujarat. Therefore, Modi ji is not an OBC by birth.”

The former Congress president further said, “Do you know how do I know that he was not born OBC? I don’t require a birth certificate to ascertain the fact. He does not embrace any OBC person. He does not hold the hands of farmers and labourers. He only holds the hand of Adani ji.”

Gandhi said that Modi was made a PM to “fool” all backward-class communities. “He wears one piece of clothing in the morning and it subsequently gets changed during noon and evening. His attires keep changing every day. And he lies that he belongs to the OBC community,” he remarked.

Previous attack on Modi over OBC caste

In the run-up to the Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2023, while addressing a poll rally in Jagdalpur, Gandhi had attacked one of Modi’s speeches where he had stated that the poor are the only caste in the country.

"We all know there are Dalit, Adivasi, and backward-class people in the country. If there is only one caste in the country, why does he call himself an OBC?" he added.

How did BJP react?

Union ministers Prahlad Joshi and Dharmendra Pradhan alleged that Gandhi has been spreading lies on this issue.

“The truth: Modi's OBC status was recognised on October 27, 1999, two years before he became Gujarat's Chief Minister. @INCIndia insults the OBC community yet again, but OBCs will deliver a resounding lesson in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls,” Joshi, the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, said in a post on X.

Soon after this, Rahul Gandhi also took to X and said: “Modi ji is not by birth but a 'paper OBC'. He was not an OBC till five decades after his birth. Thanks to the BJP government for confirming this truth of mine.”

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who hails from Odisha, also reacted to Gandhi’s statement.

“Like every time, another lie of @RahulGandhi was exposed. Either Rahul Gandhi is really ignorant or he feels that by telling lies repeatedly, lies are accepted as truth. Rahul Gandhi ji should first do justice to himself, if he will spread and sell lies like this every day, then the day is not far when he will be limited to only humour, satire and entertainment,” he said.

Odisha BJP’s general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan said that Rahul Gandhi does not understand what he says.

Caste census controversy 

The former Congress president also alleged that the prime minister will never conduct a caste census in the country, without which social justice cannot be achieved.

He also claimed that a majority of people are denied social justice. “Only the Congress party will conduct this caste census and ensure social justice in India,” Gandhi said.

In October last year, the Bihar government published the Caste Census Survey that was conducted earlier that year. Since then, Congress governments across states have called for the necessity of the survey sparking a political debate.

The 'caste politics' of the Mandal-associated parties and calls for caste surveys are also meant to counter the 'religion politics' of the BJP. Notably, around the time the Mandal report came out that led to the reservation for the OBCs, the BJP and the broader Sangh Parivar of the Hindutva ecosystem had mounted the Ram Mandir movement. Together, the two sociopolitical currents were called the 'Mandal-Kamandal' politics — 'Kamandal' being a reference to the Hindutva politics as kamandal is a traditional water-pot carried by Hindu sages. 

Now, the calls for the caste survey and the focus on the OBCs of the Congress party and others is part of their plan to counter the Hindutva politics of BJP and PM Modi, who stormed to power in 2014 with a clear majority for the first time in three decades. Earlier, longtime political observer Kaviraj told Outlook that the Hindutva politics and caste politics are competing sociopolitical forces. He said the communal politics saves the BJP from caste consolidation as it competes with caste-based parties in UP and Bihar, such as Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) etc. 

(with PTI inputs)