Speaker does a VP Singh; At nth minute, Patole moves resolution for caste-based census

Mumbai: By exercising the Speaker's rarely used power to move a resolution, Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Nana Patole did a VP Singh on Wednesday, waiting until the completion of regular House business, to pass a resolution demanding a census of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the state. With this move, Maharashtra becomes the first state to pass such a resolution in the country. As Prime Minister, Singh had implemented OBC reservation in the country in 1990.

In a significant move to increase pressure on the Centre for inclusion of a caste census in the general census this year, the Maharashtra Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to this effect, to determine the population of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) across the country. The resolution was moved suo motu by Speaker Patole and unanimously adopted by the Lower House.

Maharashtra is the home of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, who is an icon of the OBC and Dalit politics in the country. Speaker Patole surprised everybody by moving this resolution at the last moment. Generally, all resolutions are tabled in the House after discussion by the business advisory committee (BAC). But as per the rules of business, the Speaker has the power to move a resolution in the House on his own, one which has rarely been exercised by others in his position. By doing precisely this, Patole, a well-known champion and leader of OBCs, has now become a hero for the OBCs, who are celebrating his bold move across the state.

A special one-day session of the state legislature was held to ratify the Constitution Amendment Bill, which was passed by Parliament on December 11.

"The new Census will be taken up in 2021. There is need for the data of OBC population so that they can be given benefits of development," the Speaker said.

He said many delegations of OBCs have met him demanding such enumeration.

"The House can pass a resolution seeking caste-based census to determine the OBC population," he added. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was not aware of the issue and was seen gesturing to officials. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar indirectly objected moving such a resolution, insisting the issue could be discussed in BAC first and then be taken up in the Budget session beginning next month.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anil Parab also said that only business finalised by the BAC for the day should be taken up by the House. It was a tense moment as the Speaker, the final authority on House matters, sought permission to move the resolution and government was seen to be opposing it. At this critical point, one of the tallest leaders of the OBCs, Chhagan Bhujbal stood up and supported Patole. "The caste-based census is necessary. When the OBC reservation based on the recommendation of Mandal Commission was challenged before the Supreme Court, the court asked what the population of the OBCs was and the government did not have the figures. The last caste-based census was done in 1931 and it showed that the country then had 54 per cent OBCs. The late BJP leader, Gopinath Munde, too had demanded an OBC census as did the parliamentary standing committee headed by Sumitra Mahajan. We should not waste any more time in demanding such a census," he stressed.

Patole then asked the Leader of Opposition and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis for his view. Taken by surprise at being suddenly cornered thus, he played safe, saying that the opposition would support such a resolution whenever it would be considered. He agreed with the need for such a census.

At this point, Patole said, taking up the issue (caste-based census) next month would be too late and moved the resolution immediately. After he read out the resolution, the House passed it by a voice vote.

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