OBC politics continues to churn in Madhya Pradesh, with a new controversy erupting on a decision of the state government to appoint BJP ex-minister Gaurishankar Bisen as the chairman of the ‘MP Pichhda Varg Kalyan Aayog’ (backward class welfare commission).
In a press release announcing Bisen’s appointment issued on Thursday, the state public relations department had said that the setting up of the ‘commission’ had been announced by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on August 15.
The appointment led to a confusion and controversy on Friday, and it seems to be more about the nomenclature of the ‘commission’ rather than the appointment of the chairman.
The matter has added fuel to the already raging politics between the Congress and BJP over taking credit for OBC welfare, including 27 per cent reservation for them in state government recruitments.
Now, the Congress has called the decision of the government to set up another panel, with deceptively similar name as the already existing statutory body ‘MP State Backward Class Commission (MP Rajya Pichhda Varg Aayog)’, a ploy to mislead the OBC people and take political benefits.
A gazette notification of the state government, dated September 2, shows that the ‘MP Pichhda Varg Kalyan Aayog’ (backward class welfare commission) is meant ‘to study the current social, educational and economic condition of the other backward classes in Madhya Pradesh and make recommendations to the state government in this regard.’ It has a tenure of two years, which could be extended by the government as required.
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The MP State Backward Class Commission – a statutory body - was constituted in 1993 following a direction of the Supreme Court in the famous Indira Sawhney case on OBC reservation in government jobs. The commission is governed by the MP Rajya Pichhda Varg Aayog Adhiniyam (MP State Backward Class Commission Act), 1995. The Act and the commission are still in force.
According to the Act, the main functions of the commission are to act as watchdog body for the protection afforded to the members of the backward classes; to watch the proper and timely implementation of programmes meant for the welfare of backward classes and to suggest improvement in such programmes; to tender advice regarding reservation for backwards classes in public services and for admission in educational institutions; to examine requests for inclusion of any of the citizens as backward classes in the list prepared by state government among others.
The Kamal Nath-led Congress government, just before it got ousted in March 2020, appointed Congress leader J.P. Dhanopia as the chairman of this commission. After the BJP government came to power, it decided to cancel the appointment. But the matter was challenged in the High Court, which granted a stay on the cancellation order. The stay continues and thus, legally, Dhanopia continues to be the chairman of the commission.
Interestingly however, talking to a section of media on Friday, Bisen said that the ‘commission’ of which he has been appointed chairman was totally ‘constitutional’ and probably the earlier commission (headed by Dhanopia and earlier) did not have the required constitutional validity. Bisen also went a step further and said that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had given a constitutional framework to the national commission for backward class and the new commission in MP was set up on these lines.
However, Dhanopia, while speaking to THE WEEK said that the entire matter was misleading in the sense that the ‘Pichhda varg kalyan aayog’ as announced by the chief minister on August 15 is merely a separate government-appointed panel, like a probe panel, to look into issues of OBC people and had no constitutional validity.
“The MP State Backward Class Commission is a statutory body and I am its chairman. There can be no appointment on this panel till the case in the High Court is pending. Any such appointment will be contempt of court. This new 'commission' and appointment is merely a way to create confusion among OBC people and to distract them from actual issues,” Dhanopia said. He added that it was also a ploy to assuage senior leader Gaurishankar Bisen, who is BJP MLA from Balaghat, for keeping him out of the cabinet.