The hierarchical Indian caste system has been a big obstacle to the journey towards equality. With independence and the coming into being of the Constitution, provisions were made for the socially backward classes, and for reservations for the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.
Later, in 1990 VP Singh, when faced with a threat to his power from Chaudhary Devi Lal Chautala, implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission report, giving 27% reservation to ‘other backward castes’. This was in addition to the already existing quota for STs and SCs.
Lately similar demands have been coming from dominant castes like Jats, Marathas, Patels and others. State governments are in a dilemma about these demands, for some of which massive agitations have been launched in recent times.
Against this backdrop the BJP led NDA Government has introduced 10% reservation for the economically backward upper castes. The union cabinet gave its approval to the same and Parliament has passed the necessary amendment.
The organisation Youth for Equality - which has been opposing the very concept of reservation on the grounds that ‘merit’ should be the only criterion for jobs and education - has challenged the government’s move in the Supreme Court.
What is interesting is that the BJP as a party has long been in the forefront of the ideological battle opposing the concept of reservations. Large agitations and movements have been witnessed in the past led by right wing people opposed to reservations.
The anti reservation riots of Ahmadabad in the 1980s were against the quota for Dalits - they perpetrated massive violence against Dalits. Similarly from 1985 onwards another series of violence was unleashed against the principle of reservation in promotion in public sector jobs.
In the wake of the Mandal recommendations’ implementation the only party to oppose it was the Shiv Sena. The other major outfit conceptually opposed to reservations and beating the merit drum has been the BJP - though for electoral purposes it did not come forward to openly oppose the Mandal Commission.
Instead the BJP went on to strengthen its Kamandal politics, the Ram temple politics, which polarised society along religious lines and led to massive violence. The upper limit of reservations so far has been set by the Supreme Court at 50% which will now go up to 60%. Whether this is legally tenable, needs to be seen.
Moreover the proposed definition of ‘economically backward’ defies all logic. It will include all those with an annual income below Rs 8 lakhs a year, with a house smaller than 1000 square feet or land less than 5 acres. By rough estimates over 90% of the Indian population will be eligible for this 10% reservation.
So, in effect the move will neutralise the whole concept of affirmative action. And given the huge number eligible for it, surely the upper-caste poor won’t benefit from it. The points which emerge from this reservation initiative by the government show that its intention is not any way to help the poor among the upper castes to come up.
So far in society those benefitting from quotas have been looked down upon in a humiliating way. It was to bypass this ST/ ST/ OBC reservation that a whole series of private colleges came up, where money power was the major factor in gaining entry.
The contradiction of merit versus money stands very much exposed during the past decades. While blaming people coming from a reserved category for being substandard, among private colleges donations and the money game have been the major player in the education field.
So why this move, which won’t be of any use in undoing India’s social-economic disparities?
Remarkably, even while this move is being undertaken thousands of reserved category jobs lie vacant, and are not being filled. In most areas of economic activity, permanent work is being outsourced on contract to temporary workers.
The policy’s makers know the move won’t benefit the poor as new jobs are not being created. Be it the public sector or the private, there is massive stagnation in jobs creation and that is what is leading to frustration among the youth. When jobs are not being filled or created afresh, what does the quota mean?
PM Modi came to power in 2014 on the promise of creating two crore jobs every year. Instead with demonetisation he implemented a reduction of jobs, particularly in the informal sector. ‘Make in India’ which was somehow supposed to create industry jobs turned out to be a flop.
With unemployment growing, we need to rethink our industrial policies but also focus on how to implement affirmative action. People are suffering from social injustice, due to discrimination on grounds of religion, gender and caste. The Ranganath Mishra Committee and the Sachar Committee reports tell us about the massive discrimination against Muslim minorities. How do we march towards a society with justice in this scenario?
Short sighted jumla led leaders cannot deliver justice or jobs. We need an inclusive government with an inclusive agenda to address our society’s ills. This so called reservation for the economically backward upper castes is yet another attempt by the Modi-BJP-RSS to throw up another jumla, which has no content as far as implications for the poorer upper castes are concerned.
At another level, bringing in an economic criterion into reservations is an admission of failure to alleviate poverty. It is also an attempt to undo the very basis of reservation as given in our Constitution, and that is social injustice, the social hierarchy.
Reservation is not a poverty alleviation program, which anyway the state is bound to undertake. Neither seems possible from a government more concerned about favouring big corporates in its policymaking.(Published on 21st January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 04)