Telangana polls: PM Modi makes politically-loaded sub-categorisation promise — but to whose benefit?

If Modi's announcement sways the numerically strong Madigas, the BRS may be the gainer as the community vote eludes Congress.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Nov 13, 2023 | 9:16 PM Updated Nov 13, 2023 | 9:16 PM

Modi Madiga sub-categorisation of SCs Telangana Assembly election

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stirred a hornet’s nest when he said, on Saturday, 11 November, that he was game for sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes (SCs) for the purpose of applying reservations in employment and education.

Modi’s endorsement of the demand of Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) founder-president Manda Krishna Madiga that SCs should be sub-categorised into A, B, C, and D groups has come at a time when Telangana is bracing for Assembly elections.

Krishna Madiga’s argument has been that in the absence of sub-categorisation, the Malas — considered more educated and worldly-wise — would continue to corner the entire quota meant for SCs, leaving little or none for the other castes, particularly the Madigas and several other sub-castes.

Modi backs sub-categorisation of SCs

The demand is not new and neither is the Union government’s silence on it.

But then Modi takes part in a meeting of Madigas — Madiga Viswaroopa Sabha — at Parade Ground in Secunderabad and he hugs Krishna Madiga for his relentless agitation for sub-categorisation and vows his full support for his mission.

Interestingly, Modi even said that he would be part of Krishna Madiga’s agitation to help him reach his objective. He promised to constitute a commission, which he even might, given the Lok Sabha elections next year, and also speed up what the government has to do for early adjudication of the issue pending before the Supreme Court.

The meeting, no doubt, had witnessed poignant scenes with Krishna Madiga breaking down and hugging the Prime Minister, and the latter comforting him and congratulating him on his unceasing struggle for sub-categorisation.

However, Modi’s political intentions and Krishna Madiga’s naivety that his mission is very close to accomplishment, were hard to miss.

The prime minister’s promise of sub-categorisation of the SCs is expected to change patterns in the political mosaic in the state ahead of the Telangana Assembly elections and the 2024 Parliament elections, in which the BJP wants to score a hat-trick.

As the promise to speed up the process of sub-categorisation came across at what looked like an election rally promise, though it was not, it has knocked the stuffing out of the promise, as very few take seriously election assurances, particularly at a time when the issue has already come up several times in the past — and commissions have been constituted and litigation is ongoing in the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the prime minister said that if a Bill to amend the Constitution is introduced in Parliament to this effect, there would be no more roadblocks for the sub-categorisation of SCs.

Also read: PM Modi vows to resolve SC sub-categorisation row

It’s Madigas vs Malas

The issue has gained importance as the sub-categorisation demand always has the potential to polarise the  Madigas against Malas. It is a prudent ploy to use for a politician ahead of elections.

Getting a majority of Madigas under the BJP’s banner and sending out vibes across the nation that it is truly Madiga-friendly, would pay Modi well as he prepares for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

As far as Telangana is concerned, there might be polarisation of Madigas in favour of the BJP after Krishna Madiga said that it was the BJP alone that would do justice to the community.

According to the 2011 census, the SC population in Telangana was 54,32,680, of whom Madigas comprised 32,33,642 and Malas accounted for 15,27,143. The figure jumped to 75 lakh (all Dalits put together) in the comprehensive family survey done by the Telangana government in 2014, which is about 18 percent of the state’s total population.

For the two Telugu states, the demand has a familiar ring. The erstwhile Andhra government had sub-categorised SCs into four groups in 1997 and fixed separate quotas for them, but a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck it down in 2004.

Following the apex court’s verdict, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, in a resolution in the same year, urged the Union government to take up the matter. A National Commission was set up under Justice Usha Mehra, which recommended an amendment to Article 341 of the Constitution to sub-categorise SCs and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Also read: 4,798 candidates file nominations for 119 Assembly seats

‘It’s a sham’

According to political analysts, one should not miss the bigger picture Modi was looking at when he made the announcement. It is believed that he wants to refurbish the image of the BJP, which has taken a beating over time with its varnashrama dharma narrative.

“If Modi really wanted to apologise to the Dalits, he should have done it for endorsing varnashrama dharma,” said political commentator Telakapalli Ravi. He called the show of extending support to the demand for sub-categoriastion a political stunt.

“It is a sham. There could be no doubt about it, particularly after Unnao and Hathras,” he said, referring to instances of atrocities against Dalits.

Ravi maintained that if Modi was really so sorry that he could not do anything for sub-categorisation, he could do it now.

“Why make a show at a public meeting? Several state Assemblies had sent resolutions in support of sub-categorisation. Why form a committee? Why not introduce a Bill right away? There is a saying: If you do not want to do something, refer it to a committee,” Ravi said.

Modi’s endorsement of the sub-categorisation of SCs may change patterns in the political kaleidoscope ahead of the elections in Telangana. Modi flying down to Secunderabad personally and declaring his support for sub-categoirsation and that he would do everything in his power to make it a reality, might have an impact on the Madigas.

Apart from this, the impassioned plea of Krishna Madiga that there is no other party other than the BJP that would do justice to the Madigas might have a lot of impact on them.

Modi announcement may help BRS

Modi’s assertion that he would speed up the process for sub-categorisation may not pay political dividends for the BJP as it is already skating on thin ice with predictions that it might not make much of an impact in the elections.

But it may help the BRS as it is now struggling with the headwinds of the Dalits showing interest in the Congress, in the wake of the party suddenly acquiring a new lease of life and surging ahead after its unexpected landslide victory in Karnataka.

Madigas, who are interested in the Congress, might, after all, turn to the BJP. As the BJP takes away the Congress votes, the BRS stands a better chance.

“The entire exercise might end up helping the BRS,” Ravi weighed in.

Also read: PM Modi set to visit Telangana from 25 to 27 November