Reservation for Economically Backward: Another Jumla!

By Ram Puniyani

The Indian caste system has been a big obstacle to the journey towards equality. With Independence and the Indian Constitution coming into being, the provisions were made for socially backward classes for reservations for SC and ST. Later in 1990, VP Singh when faced with the threat to his power from Choudhary Devilal, implemented to report of Mandal Commission which gave 27% of reservation to other backward castes. This was in addition to the already existing quota for the ST and SC. Lately, there have been demands from dominant castes like Jats, Marathas, Patels and others for reservations for them. The State Governments have been in dilemmas about these demands, for some of which massive agitations have been launched in recent history.

Coming in this backdrop is the BJP led NDA Government has introduced 10% reservation for the economically backward upper castes. The Central Cabinet gave approval to the same and the Parliament has passed the amendment for its implantation. At the same time ‘Youth for Equality’, which has been opposing the very concept of reservation on the grounds that only merit should be the criterion for jobs has challenged this in the Supreme Court. What is interesting is that BJP as a party has been in the forefront of ideological battle opposing the concept of reservations. Long agitations and movements have been witnessed in the past led by the right-wing people opposing the very concept of reservation. The anti-reservation riots of Ahmadabad in 1980s were against the quota for Dalits. These witnessed massive violence against Dalits. Similarly, in 1985 onwards another series of violence was unleashed against the principle of reservation in promotion in jobs.

In the wake of Mandal Commission implementation the only party to oppose it was Shiv Sena. The other major outfit conceptually opposed to reservations and beating the drum of merit has been BJP. For the electoral purpose, it did not come forward to openly oppose the Mandal Commission. In place, it went on to strengthen its Kamandal politics, the Ram temple politics, which polarized the society along religious lines leading to massive violence. Youth for Equality has been constantly opposing reservation of all and any types. It is now in Supreme Court.

The upper limit of reservations so far has been set to a total of 50%, with this 10% additional it will go up to 60%. Will it be legally tenable, needs to be seen. The definition of economically backward defies all the logic, what has been proposed is that all those having an annual income of below 8 Lakhs per year, having a household less that1000 square feet and having land less than 5 Acres will be put in this category. If we see the rough estimates around these parameters, over 90% of Indian population will be eligible for this 10% reservation, in effect it is like neutralizing the whole concept of affirmative action and surely poor of the upper caste are not going to benefit from it.

The points which emerge from this reservation initiative by this government show that its intention is not any way to help the poor upper caste to come up. So far in society, those benefitting from quotas have been looked down in a humiliating way. It is to bypass this ST/ST/OBC reservation that the whole series of private colleges came up, where bypassing the merit, the money power was the major factor. The contradiction of merit versus money stood very much exposed during the last many decades. While blaming the one’s coming from the reserved category as being substandard, the private colleges-donations and game of money have been the major player in the field of education. So while there has been opposition to the concept of reservation why this move, which in any way is not going to be of any use in bridging the divide of social-economic disparity.

It is interesting to note that while this move is being undertaken thousands of jobs are lying vacant; not being filled. In most of the areas, permanent work is being outsourced on contract to the temporary workers. The policymakers know that this move is not going to benefit the poor as new jobs are not being created. Be it the Government sector of the public sector, there is a massive stagnation in the jobs and that is what is leading to the frustration among the youth. When jobs are not being filled or created afresh what does the quota mean?

Mr Modi came to power in 2014 on the promise of creating two crore jobs every year. Rather than creating more jobs, he has landed up with a reduction of jobs in informal sector due to demonetization. The ‘Make in India’ which was supposed to create jobs turned out to be a flop. With the growing unemployment not only we need to think of our industrial policies but also focus on how we implement affirmative action. People are suffering due to social injustice and also due to discrimination on the ground of religion. Ranganath Mishra Committee and Sachar Committee reports tell us the massive discrimination against Muslim minorities. How do we march towards a society with justice in this scenario? The short-sighted Jumla led leaders cannot deliver justice or jobs. We need an inclusive government with an inclusive agenda to address the ills of our society.

This so-called reservation for an economically backward section of society is yet another attempt by Modi-BJP to throw up another Jumla, which has no content as for as implications on poorer upper caste is concerned. At another level bringing in economic criterion in the 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 any way needs to be undertaken. This again is just not possible by a government, which is more concerned about favouring big Corporate in its policymaking.


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