Indian PM Pushes Benefit Boosting Bill for Lower Upper Castes Ahead of General Election

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has proposed legislation to reserve 10 per cent of central and state government jobs as well as seats in higher education institutions to the economically backward sections of the upper castes. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on Tuesday with 323 favouring votes out of 326 votes in total. On Wednesday, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) gave a nod to the bill, with support from a majority of the parliament members present. PM Modi described on his Twitter the passage of this constitutional amendment bill in both houses as “a victory for social justice.” The bill will become law after it gets approval from the country’s president.

The quota, once in force, will cover the nearly 200 million Indian nationals in the General Category, a grouping that comprises upper caste Hindus and “non-backward” members of other religious communities who were previously not eligible for special job quotas. These upper caste groups have long been lobbying for reservation for the poor among them.

Some in the opposition parties, although supporting the bill itself, believe that this policy move is in fact an attempt to boost the support base for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the general election to be held between April and May. His ruling party has encountered several setbacks recently, including losing three elections to the opposition last December. Critics also question the effectiveness of the bill in helping Modi fulfil his campaign promise of creating 10 million jobs in five years.

India’s Reservation System was created after the country’s independence in 1947 and was intended to redress discrimination and make job and educational opportunities more accessible to the traditionally disadvantaged individuals belonging to the socially and educationally backward classes. The Supreme Court currently mandates a 50 per cent cap on all reservations, while debates about removing this cap also began to emerge with the introduction of Modi’s new bill.