Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) announced on Friday that it will reserve 27 per cent of its tickets for next year’s panchayat elections for candidates from the backward classes, with analysts saying it’s the first party in the country to initiate such a move. The development came days after the BJD demanded a central law empowering states to do away with the 50 per cent cap on reservation and appropriate columns in the Census 2021 form for the identification of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). This week the 127th constitutional amendment Bill, restoring the power to decide on the list of backward classes to states, sailed through Parliament.
“It is a historic day for the people of Odisha as the ruling BJD has decided to reserve 27% of party tickets for socially and educationally backward candidates in all elections,” said state food supplies minister and senior BJD leader Ranendra Pratap Swain. “Because of the cap on the percentage of reservation and as there is no central law to determine it, the BJD has taken a political decision to field 27 per cent OBC/SEBC candidates in panchayat and subsequent polls in the state.”
Odisha’s agriculture and farmer empowerment minister Arun Kumar Sahoo said that other political parties in the state should also give proportionate party tickets to the other backward classes (OBCs). He added that though the state government is unable to reserve seats for OBCs in education and jobs due to the 50 per cent reservation ceiling set by the Supreme Court, Patnaik has decided to start the quota from within the party itself. Sahoo said the SEBC Act, 2008, has provision for reservation of posts and services for OBCs. The quota, though, has not been implemented as the Census is as yet not on the basis of Caste, making it difficult for the government to arrive at an accurate percentage of the OBC population in the state, he said.
The three-tier panchayat polls are likely to be held around February 2022 and will be a test of popularity for the ruling BJD and chief minister Naveen Patnaik, while it will also give the BJP a chance to assess its situation in the state where it has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition party. Assembly polls will be held in the state in 2024, the same year as the general elections. Analysts say the BJD’s move is likely to give it an edge in the polls, as Odisha has a sizeable backward class population.