OBCs to play significant role in Kangra belt

PALAMPUR- While the BJP has consolidated its Gaddi vote bank by according tribal status to the entire community in the state when it was in the power, the disillusionment of other backward classes (OBCs) may upset its applecart in many seats in the Kangra district.

Other backward classes have not been exactly pleased with the indifferent attitude of the successive governments towards their demands for 27 per cent reservation in government jobs. Mr Vidya Sagar, a former minister in BJP-HVC coalition government who is contesting as BJP candidate from Kangra this time, had resigned in protest against the failure of the Dhumal government in 2002 to increase the quota. He maintained that BJP had promised that the OBC quota would be enhanced as and when the Jat community was granted OBC status. However, this did not happen. Last time on this issue he had left the party and contested the election as independent candidate and secured over 11000 votes. Mr Sagar has strong influence in the community. Keeping in view his stronghold in the community, BJP had again fielded him this time from Kangra constituency.

Other backward classes, which constitute about 20 per cent of the state’s population, are mostly concentrated in the merged areas, comprising Kangra, Una and parts of Hamirpur district. They can tilt the electoral scales in 18 constituencies, where they account for 20 per cent to 70 per cent of the electorate. The highest percentage of the OBCs is in Kangra and Nagrota Bagwan (about 70 per cent), followed by Shahpur, Guler, Paonta-Doon, Nadaun, Jwalamukhi, Chintpurani, Gagret and Santokhgarh. The other constituencies where the backward classes have a sizeable presence include Jaswan, Nurpur, Jwali, Una, Dharamsala, Sulah and Palampur.

The OBCs became a significant political force following ‘mandalisation’ of the political scene during the V.P. Singh regime. The impact was more severe in Himachal Pradesh, which saw a prolonged anti-Mandal agitation. The BJP, which was in power at that time, lost the support of OBCs, as a result of which it was routed in the 1993 Assembly elections.

The Congress, which came to power subsequently made all efforts to please this community, initially reserved 10 per cent jobs for the OBCs and set up a commission to decide their exact quota on the basis of population. It raised the quota from 12 per cent to 15 per cent and finally 18 per cent on the recommendation of the commission. However, despite all this it was not able to keep its OBC vote bank intact and a sizeable chunk of backward cases swayed back to the BJP in last elections.

The raw deal given to Mr Ramesh Dhwala and Mr Vidya Sagar, the two OBC ministers in the Dhumal Government, has also been a cause of resentment in the community against BJP. Along with this the sidelining of Mr Shanta Kumar by the BJP High Command in the state, the OBC vote bank of the BJP has also been adversely affected in the merged areas particularly in Kangra district. A section of OBC in Kangra district is in fix either to vote for BJP or congress. It was OBC factor which had defeated Mr. Shanta Kumar in last parliamentary election from Kangra-Chamba constituency against congress candidate Chaudhry Chander Kumar.

The OBCs are also not happy with the congress as the Vir Bhadar Singh did not induct any OBC minister to his cabinet from the merged areas after the down sizing of his cabinet. Their only leader Chander Kumar was made MP, thereafter there was none in the state cabinet to represent such a large community of the state. It is evident from the facts on the record that OBC particularly in Kangra will play significant role in the assembly elections.

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