he forthcoming village panchayat elections has been mired with controversies. Initially, the elections got postponed by the government. When the courts refused to play ball and directed that elections have to be held at any cost according to the Supreme Court mandate, the government hurriedly pushed through a reservation exercise, which is on the face of it absolutely appalling.
Obviously reservations were not done. Then they were done in an absolute and tearing hurry because of which what we have now a situation in some areas where there are hardly any or even zero reservations for the Other Backward Class (OBC) community.
They are being underrepresented and now we have about 1800 wards where elections are going to happen across 186 panchayats and there are about 305 wards that are reserved, which is far below the mandated 27% reservation.
The real figure would be hovering around 20%. Even the High Court of Bombay at Goa on Friday slammed the government and SEC for failing triple test on OBC reservations.
Reservations are needed since unless the suppressed community get their political rights, they won’t get the social rights also. So the question arises whether that tenet is being followed or are OBC reservations being done just to allow certain politicians to win elections? Also, where has this reservation got botched up?
“Our community and the reservation for those was just used as an excuse to manipulate the wards in terms of delimitation and of course reservation for the newly elected MLAs. They needed time to break the wards for their probable candidates, who will be contesting the panchayat elections so that it facilitates their victory,” independent politician Dattaprasad Naik said.
Some established panch members who are there in those wards, their wings are being cut. And in that bargain, they started giving OBC reservation as an excuse to postpone elections, so this has led to this fiasco.
“We are not buying the excuse of rains because everybody knows in Goa it rains more heavily in July, not in June. It rains even more heavily in August at times. This is my direct allegation that just for the newly elected MLAs, they needed time to manipulate the wards, just like how we have seen in the Panjim Municipality elections, how we have seen in the previous municipal elections and this has led to this fiasco where my OBC community has lost 7% of the reservation,” Naik said.
As per the triple test mandate by Supreme Court, State’s OBC Commission and Election Commission required to conduct rigorous, thorough and contemporary study of the nature and extent of backwardness on OBC communities in each village panchayat. The sum total of all reservations shouldn’t go over 50%.
In the haphazard manner in which the reservations were done, was this ‘triple test’ done at all or not?
Ex MLA and former sarpanch Agnelo Fernandes said that there is State Election Commission here but they have not done the empirical studies.
“They've just gone based on surnames, but that also it's just they've done more of guesswork than actually collecting empirical data. The main issue here is I think the government wanted to control the local bodies. That is why they wanted two or three months and that is because some of the local bodies have objected to governments plans to undertake construction work and push projects like for coal. The government wanted to somehow control this or do it in their way by having their administrators in this,” Fernandes said.
They botched this up, thinking that somebody will go to court and the court may give us the order and then they can delay the elections. They have not done what the Supreme Court has mandated. Neither have they done the 27% reservation, nor have they done the triple test, he added.
There are two direct allegations on the government. One is that this was done mainly to give the newly elected MLAs time to manipulate the reservation. Number two it was running in an absolutely kind of a haphazard manner and whatever data collection has been done.
Now the data collection seems obviously faulty because one cannot in such a short span of time gather massive data at such rocket speed and suddenly announce reservation.
Premanand Mahambre, Spokesperson, BJP said that these types of allegations have been heaped during many panchayat elections held in the past. That is why our government in the last year or some years back, made an amendment to the Panchayat Raj Act and gave the responsibility of reservations to the SEC.
“In the past, there have been allegations of this type and I don't think there is any substance in this because it is not the government which is doing this division of wards or even the reservation. It is the domain of SEC, which is a constitutional body. I don’t think they will allow any interference from the government. I think this allegation is absolutely false,” Mahambre said.
However, the issue here is that it is the SEC itself very categorically asked the government for dates. They suggested four specific dates, but the government did not respond to them. SEC is on record talking of several instances where they wanted the government to initially have come up.
Disagreeing with the allegations, Mahambre said that government has no role to play. When the earlier government was doing the formation of wards, there was no time given for even objections. But this time, the SEC made the wards and then gave time for the people to file objections. These were heard and accordingly corrections were made.
It was for the SEC to take a call on the triple test because as a constitutional body, they must be aware of all these particular decisions of any court which they are supposed to take and alert the government.
“Now when the government got alerted, SEC said because it is not possible to have all these triple tests, it proposed postponing the election so that the triple test could be done properly and reservation for OBCs could be given in right manner,” the BJP spokesperson said.
Tulio D'Souza, Spokesperson, Congress said that Supreme Court judgment of March 4, 2021 mandated the reservation for OBCs. Term of our panchayat was to end in June 2022.
If the government was so keen on helping the OBCs this item would have been prime on their agenda to try and go ahead by following the Supreme Court judgment in letter and spirit to get these reservations done in time because the elections were coming.
“Everybody knew that on June 19, 2022 the term of the five-year panchayat was going to end. This did not come from as a bolt from the blue. The government is pretending to sleep and pretending to wake up whenever they want,” he said.
“Why didn't the government take suitable steps and get the OBC reservations done in proper manner as mandated in the triple test - whether it is the empirical data that is to be sourced from the various sources or from the samples or the survey and the quantification of the data in terms of the amount of reservation that needs to be done,” D'Souza said.
“The government is trying to nicely put the blame on the election commission and show them as an autonomous body when they want. But when they want they ride rough shot over the election commission and push their agenda the way they want. Now having said that, they have totally failed in looking at that Supreme Court verdict,” the Congress spokesperson said.
Two months prior to the election, contradictory voices started emerging. The panchayat minister first said that elections will be held on time. Then the chief minister said probably not and then the panchayat minister said “maybe, maybe not”.
“All this shows they're trying to cast a doubt on holding of the elections. The constitutional mandate of a democracy mandates every government to hold elections in time through the autonomous bodies like the Central Election Commission or SEC that are mandated with the task of conducting the elections. But where is the question of asking the SEC when you yourself don't have the will to hold the election?” he asked.
“The idea was to postpone the elections and put the administrators on the job so that all the inconvenient and convenient agenda of the government would be pushed through at that particular time. The OBCs were never the subject,” he alleged.
Dattaprasad Naik said that nobody can buy the argument that the government has no role to play in completing reservation process for OBCs, because the OBC commission chairman has been appointed by that government.
“He has to do all this exercise. It is his duty to give this data to the election commission. Now as he says, the SEC is an independent body. If the election commission was doing it with a separate team of their own without taking the government officials' support, then we could have taken this argument,” he said.
The OBC commission has totally failed to give correct data. What could not be done in three months, how could it be done in three days and they presented it in the court.
“The most important part which nobody is highlighting that the entire credit of the OBC population getting 27% percent reservation in Goa goes to late Manohar Parrikar in 2014. Had not been for the will he had, and then we wouldn’t have got 27% reservation,” he said.
There was a village-wise study done on OBCs is already there with the government. It only had to present this in the court and we would have got our 27% reservation, Naik said.
Naik, a former BJP member, said that PM Modi is doing everything possible to see that OBCs are empowered and given the best of the facilities across the country. But it's not being seen as the case in Goa.
“The local leadership has actually failed to take care of the OBC population here. As I'm making this statement, tomorrow there will be a team of OBC leaders from my old party to counter my statement.
“I am here as an affected party. My brothers and sisters across Goa have lost the opportunity to contest and to get the benefit of the reservation which has been given to us by the government,” Naik said.
So, how this particular situation is going to affect the authenticity of the elections that are going to be held?
Agnelo Fernandes said that people are already having doubts on what is happening. In India today, although it is a SEC is constitutional and autonomous body, can any Indian citizen today say, is the press free, is the judiciary free or is the election commissioner free and independent?
“I don't think anybody today can say this from whatever experience you have got. I've said before that you have not given the data. You have not accepted the dates given by them. So this is just a farce that is happening. It is total injustice to the actual OBCs,” Fernandes said.
Tulio D'Souza said government sought postponement of elections on the grounds of monsoons. They never sought the postponement on the grounds of OBC reservations. There were no talks about OBC reservation.
“The monsoons were used as an alibi to postpone the elections, that's one part. There is very delicate empirical data that needs to be on record because this is not like playing a game of chess that you will shift the wards or colour the wards or shift the boundaries. Reservation is supposed to be supported by valid empirical data,” D'Souza said.
Indicating towards government interference in the functioning of SEC, D’Souza said, “There is clear interference, which is responsible for the botched-up reservation process.
“You have the notification of the elections, you have the reservations. The first set of reservations which was notified had reservation for women reservation, SCs and STs. It was immediately followed after this noise on OBC reservation, a second notification was issued, overlapping on the first one. That doesn't lead to 50% reservation in Goa because we are way below that,” he said.
Now the question arises, are the political parties actually serious about empowering OBCs in the first place?
Tulio D’Souza said when there is actual data available, then one can map out these in terms of giving the backward classes, the OBCs a better deal or reservation in terms of not only the political setup which should spill on to the social, political, cultural, and economic status of the of the OBCs.
“Tomorrow if you just look at a one-sided approach, it may not really deliver the results across the political spectrum in terms of the people across the geographical boundaries and across the caste equations and the sub-caste equation.
“The Congress party has always supported the OBCs, the minorities and all other people who need protection, who need encouragement, who need help,” he said.
Have the OBCs been given real empowerment in terms of either employment in the social sector and the political sector?
Dattaprasad Naik said ex-chief minister ex-defence minister late Manohar Parikar was very serious about empowering the OBCs. “27% reservation was given in January 2014, initially for Lok Sabha elections. Definitely the OBCs voted for the BJP candidates in both the constituencies and we saw the results that time. Now even on the OBC topic, from the BJP we don't have OBC leader coming here on this debate to represent OBCs,” Naik said.
He always wanted to do everything possible to see that on the ground level the OBC population is empowered.
Agnelo Fernandes contradicting Naik said there were whispers that one earlier chief minister was entertaining only a certain caste and then the new CM came and all his men were knocked out and new men were put in.
“So governments irrespective of who comes to power are not interested in the matters of OBCs. There are rumors still going on that the present dispensation is knocking off all the men whoever was being entertained during that time and he's empowering his own people,” Fernandes said.
The ground reality of transactional politics has completely superseded the advantages or disadvantages of caste politics. Is this correct?
Agnelo Fernandes agreeing with the remark said that if you are good to a certain politician, one can go forward but what the grass root politicians also do is, if that politician is defeated tomorrow they go to the new politician. So they find themselves in the position of power somehow.
Mahambre said that OBC reservation has been the gift of BJP. We have 27% reservation for OBCs, 12% for STs and 2% for SCs, which comes to 41% reservation on caste lines in Goa.
“For last so many years, all these castes have benefitted in jobs and education. Whether it is getting admission, lower fees and scholarships they have been benefitted. As far as political benefits are concerned, OBC reservation has remained the same as in earlier elections. So I am not sure whether that 27 percent was given earlier,” he said.
Apart from socio-economic benefits, the BJP has given tickets to communities from different sections of the society.
“It is because of the good intent of this government that OBC reservation has been taken up, otherwise the SEC was even prepared to conduct elections without the reservations,” the BJP spokesperson said.
Disagreeing with Mahambre, D’Souza said that it is only because of the sustained pressure built up by the opposition on the government that the government yielded.
“Please understand that it is the Congress party that made a senior OBC leader the chief minister of the State and this was done without batting an eyelid. He led the State creditably and at that time a lot of facilities for OBCs were introduced in the State,” the Congress spokesperson said.
“But who brought in the sunset clause for the Tenancy Act to tweak that that little right that those tenants and OBCs have? It was the BJP government that brought the sunset clause by amending the Tenancy Act and it's only when the Congress mounted opposition to it that they quietly dropped the clause,” he said.
Naik took on the OBC leaders from ruling party and opposition for not taking up issues of their community in the Assembly.
“We saw Vijai Sardesai speaking for the OBC. We saw AAP MLAs Venzy Vegas and Cruz Silva speaking for the OBCs. What were the OBC leaders doing? Every OBC voter from Goa has to note I am here not representing any political party, I am here to represent my people,” he said.
Citing examples he said, “The chief minister during debate in the Assembly said that the OBC reservation happens on rotation when Venzy questioned about one of the wards which does not have OBC population and yet has been demarked under OBC reservation,” he said.
“I think the chief minister should know that the OBC reservation of wards rotates only in those wards where there is minimum 10% OBC population. If there is no OBC population in that particular ward, it goes one ward ahead. So you cannot have those wards reserved as OBC where there is no minimum 10%.
“Salcete has only 9% OBC population. None of us are expecting 27% reservation in Salcete. We expect that in Pernem, where we have highest OBC population. We deserve 27% reservation in talukas like Bardez, Ponda, Sanvordem, Sanguem as well,” Naik asserted.
Agnelo Fernandes said that one cannot justify injustice by going back saying that last year or five years ago it was done, whether by Congress or anybody.
“The government was never interested about giving reservation to OBCs. Now it has given it just because the judiciary is coming down heavily on it. It was like a knee jerk reaction. You gave 20% reservation, when you should have given 27 percent,” he said.
Responding to this remark, BJP spokesperson Mahambre said, “See, in some of the panchayats reservation has gone up even up to 40%. For example in my panchayat, there are nine wards. They have four OBCs, which makes it almost makes it 40%. In other wards there are five or six. It is not uniform.”
“Reservation of OBCs or SCs and STs has to be determined by the State government. 27% reservation is mandatory in education and employment. It is not mandatory for a political reservation,” Mahambre said.
If the entire exercise of reservation is not done on the basis of empirical data meticulously collected because that cannot happen in three days. In that case, the whole exercise of these reservations, whether it's 20 to 27 percent, is faulty.
“I am fully in support of 27 percent intervention even politically. But what I am saying is that it is not mandated anywhere. It is not in the Act. It is not in the constitutional amendment,” the BJP spokesperson said.
Dattaprasad Naik responded by saying, “What the rules say and what the rules don't say is a different issue. Manohar Parrikar has given us the reservation. Has it happened? Mr Mahambre himself has accepted the mistake by giving example of his own panchayat where there are four wards and he's saying 40 percent reservation has been given there. So that's a clear mistake.”
If the reservation is 27% on the basis of entire ward’s population, can we imagine a situation where hypothetically, in 50% of the wards in Goa you give 100% reservation and in the remaining 50% you don’t give any reservation. Will that serve the purpose?
“I do not know on what basis they have done this. But they have followed the earlier trend,” he said.
Tulio D’souza harping on the second point of the triple test criteria, which doesn't talk about the percentages, but clearly says “based on the empirical data to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in the light of the recommendations of the OBC commission so as to not to fall foul”.
“So that's I think very clear that that is to be done in a manner after the empirical data is collected. You have the wards demarcated, notified so that you are exactly in proportion to the population,” he said.
Agnelo D’Souza said without the empirical data, second point becomes null and void.
“It’s clear failure on the part of OBC Commission and Panchayat department for which the OBC community today are deprived of 27% quota by 7%,” Naik said.