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Modi’s Magic

Modi’s Magic

The ultimate treatment for snakebite is to summon the same snake and ask it to bite the person again and take away the poison from his body. Once the process is over, the snake would die and the person would be freed from poison.  We had in our village an indigenous medical practitioner who is believed to have this capability. It is a different matter that nobody ever saw him summoning a snake because, it is said, that he would never agree to the killing of a snake, even to save his own life.  In fact, he used to keep a few poisonous snakes for a company and to conduct experiments. One evening, he played with a snake in an inebriated state and died of snakebite. All those who lived at Thekkepuram in Ranny in Kerala in the sixties and seventies would have met him or heard about him. 

The sensible among them also knew that no physician — indigenous or Allopathic — had the capability to summon a snake. It was just a myth like the myth that a Jyothi was automatically formed at Sabarimala. Today, I have reason to believe that my villager, who loved snakes more than he loved himself, had indeed the capability to summon a snake. You may ask whether I have become less rational and more superstitious. The simple truth is that I have seen a person summoning a snake and killing it with its own poison. My reference is to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party could never agree to the idea of reservation, using the same reservation to finish reservation. 

And the irony is that no party has the courage to call his bluff. Instead, parties like the Congress and the CPM have been eating out of his hands. What’s more, even a party like the Bahujan Samaj Party supported Modi’s initiative. Look at the cavalier manner in which he brought forward a Bill to amend the Constitution. The Union Cabinet approved a Bill to introduce 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward on Monday, 7th January. On Tuesday 8th January, it was cleared by the Lok Sabha and on Wednesday 9th January, it was cleared by the Rajya Sabha. 

There was virtually no opposition to the Bill which contravened the Constitutional provisions. It is said that the Bill does not need ratification by a majority of the state Assemblies. Once the President signs the Bill, it becomes the law of the land! In comparison, it took the government 10 years to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations.

Modi, the magician, would be able to seek votes on the specious plea that he was able to introduce reservation for the poor among the Upper Castes. What have the Opposition gained by supporting him? Precious little, except proving their own scepticism about the principles of reservation. Now, let’s see how the Constitution was drafted. The Constituent Assembly, which drafted the Constitution, was essentially an Upper Caste body. Nearly 50 per cent of the members were Brahmins. 

Yet, Dr BR Ambedkar, who knew the Indian caste system much better than anyone, including Jawaharlal Nehru, was able to chart its course in such a manner that social justice became the cornerstone of the Constitution.  The Constitution allows reservation for the socially and the educationally, not economically, backward sections of society. When the reservation was introduced for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, initially for 10 years, it was to undo the injustice they had suffered at the hands of the Upper Castes for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  There was a time when they were not allowed to walk on public roads as at Vaikom, let alone enter a temple and worship.

Realisation dawned on the political class that the inequities the SCs and the STs suffered could not be set right in 10 years and that is why reservation was continued virtually perpetually. VP Singh as Prime Minister set the cat among the pigeons when he introduced 27 per cent reservation for the backward classes. Such was the impact of the decision that the lady IAS officer from Bihar who signed the notification could not contain her tears while signing the document, although she belonged to a family of IAS officers. Again, the reservation was extended to them because the OBCs were “socially and educationally backward”. In Travancore, a memorandum was given to the Maharaja about the non-representation of some communities in the state administration. It was known as the Malayali Memorial. The memorandum pointed out that the Ezhavas, who constituted the single largest community, had virtually zero representation.

It was the time when Dr Palpu, a qualified doctor from the community, was denied a job in the state because he was born as the result of an accidental collision between an Ezhava X chromosome and an Ezhava Y chromosome.  It was also the time the educated among them were advised to continue their traditional jobs, rather than look for positions of power. 

Small wonder that a cartoon in a newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the BJP in Kerala, attacked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on the basis of his caste. To be fair, the newspaper took action against the cartoonist to mollycoddle the community to which the CM belonged. The BJP or its forerunner, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, was never a votary of reservation but every time the Bill to extend reservation for the SCs and the STs was moved in Parliament, it was forced to support it because it did not want to antagonise such communities.

However, the Sangh Parivar never fought shy of expressing its dislike for reservation on the plea that it struck against the competitive spirit which alone could take the nation forward. So why this turnaround? Modi came to power promising 2 crores of new jobs a year. By now, 10 crore young men and women would have got jobs because of his job-creation plans. They would have all been voting and campaigning for him. Far from that, his demonetisation and GST have hit tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs. A man who promoted Make in India was seen buying Rafale aircraft off the shelf from France. 

His Skill India programme is nothing but a farce. Even the toilet revolution he promised is nowhere with India retaining its position as the world’s most open-defecating nation.

In 2014, he promised Rs 15 lakh to every Indian from the supposedly trillions of rupees stashed away by the Indians in Swiss and other banks. Forget trillions, he has not been able to bring even a billion from the foreign banks. It is in this context that he hit upon the idea of reservation for the economically poor. The Supreme Court had already capped reservation at 50 per cent. Bills passed by some states to exceed the limit have not found judicial favour. Modi knows only too well that such a Bill passed by the Gujarat legislature is awaiting the apex court’s scrutiny.

If the Supreme Court can nullify the Modi government’s decision to create a Judicial Commission to appoint judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court, it can nullify the present initiative also. It can even use the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution to declare reservation for the economically poor as null and void. By then, the elections would have been over and he would have achieved his purpose. Even now, the government has been undermining the reservation policy. There are now fewer and fewer government jobs as the Indian state has been increasingly withdrawing from sectors like education, healthcare and infrastructure. Most Central public sector undertakings have been gasping for breath. Sectors like insurance and banking are increasingly privatised. No new jobs are being created in the government sector.

What’s worse, even when government employees retire, many of them are retained in the same jobs on a contract basis. There are umpteen ways in which the SCs, STs and the OBCs are prevented from getting a foothold in the government. I know how a post of news reader reserved for SC was not filled on the plea that there was no suitable candidate. Who is the poor who will get the reservation? Anyone who gets an income of Rs 8 lakh can call himself poor and get the reservation. For a vast majority of the people, Rs 8 lakh per year is a dream. All the other criteria are also questionable. Once I wrote about paying a small amount to the Maharaja of Raigarh in Chhattisgarh because I took a picture of his palace. Because he had a big house, he would not be eligible for reservation.

A person who gets Rs 800001 a year will not be eligible whereas a person who gets Re 1 less would be eligible. An unemployed youth who does not have money to pay house tax but who inherited a 1200-sq.ft flat in Delhi would not be eligible for reservation. 

However, a multimillionaire who squandered his money through gambling and drinking and became a pauper would be eligible for reservation. If Vijay Mallya, who cheated a consortium of banks of thousands of crores of rupees,  would be able to claim reservation if he proves that he has become insolvent. If anyone is adversely affected by reservation it is the Dalit Muslim and the Dalit Christian. They are socially and educationally backward but they are not given reservation on the plea that their religions are egalitarian. When the reservation was extended to the Dalit Sikhs, they should also have received the benefits of reservation, as Sikhism is also an egalitarian religion like Christianity and Islam.

Now what happens is that the Dalit Christian and the Dalit Muslim have been deprived of 50 per cent of jobs and seats. They have to compete with the educationally and socially forward Castes as also those enjoying the benefits of reservation for a job. Small wonder, they fall by the wayside. God alone knows whether they would also be eligible for the 10 per cent reservation. Even if they are eligible, they will not get the benefit for reasons clearly discernible. In India, it would not be difficult for a rich man to get a certificate that he/she is poor. If a person is influential, he can get a certificate of his choice.

That is what is happening in the schools of Delhi. The Right to Education mandates the schools to admit a certain percentage of the poor. The poor are invariably the children of those working as housemaids and drivers of those in power who drop out after some time because they feel discriminated against. A word about the CPM and the Congress would be in order. They never cared for the Scheduled Castes and the Backwards. A look at the caste composition of the Congress Chief Ministers would reveal that an overwhelming majority of them were Upper Castes.

The CPI and the CPM were Upper Caste-dominated parties. They have not been able to throw up a charismatic Scheduled Caste leader so far. Worse, in one election in Kerala KR Gowriamma was projected as the potential Chief minister but when it came to choosing a leader, the choice fell on an upper caste person. Comrade VS Achuthanandan had to cross many an obstacle and if Pinarayi Vijayan had become the natural choice for the post, it was a measure of his shrewdness and political manoeuvring. The less said about the Congress the better. It was VP Singh’s Mandal formula which changed the political complexion of India. What the BJP does not realise is that the Mandal Commission had also recommended the introduction of reservation in all private sector companies which had any dealing with nationalised banks and public sector companies.

The fact of the matter is that there is not a single private company which has thrived without government support. In other words, they all will have to reserve jobs for the SCs, the STs, the OBCs and, now, the economically poor in their companies. Modi may think that he has hit the Opposition where it hurts them the most but what he does not realise is that the demand for extension of reservation to the private sector would soon arise and he would not be able to ignore it. His is, therefore, a Pyrrhic victory.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 14th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 03)