The reservation issue would continue to haunt the BJP and the RSS all throughout the UP poll campaign and in the wider national debate. It is true that even the chief architect of the constitution Dr B R Ambedkar had hinted that there should be a time limit on reservations, but this was with the expectation that within that period the social inequalities would be addressed.
Whatever may have been his subsequent clarifications, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh publicity chief Manmohan Vaidya should be given full credit for his candid statement on the SC/ST and other caste based reservations.
At the high profile Zee Literature Festival in Jaipur, during the course of an interactive Q&A session, Vaidya had said: “Reservations for SC/ST was introduced in a different context. It was provided for in the Constitution to remedy the historical injustice done to them. It was our responsibility. So, reservation for them has been there since the inception (of the Constitution). But, even Ambedkar has said its continuance in perpetuity is not good. There should be a time limit to it.” He added that instead of continuing with reservations infinitely, attempts should be made to make available to people equal opportunities for education and other things. “Its continuance forever will promote sectarianism,” he said.
In all honesty and integrity about public discourse, given Vaidya’s position as the chief spokesperson of the RSS, this should be considered as the institutional position of the saffron ideological body on the subject. Any subsequent clarifications should be seen as political window dressing.
We cannot ignore the fact the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had made similar remarks about the need for a review of the reservation policy, just ahead of Bihar polls. Now both Bhagwat and Vaidya are fully aware of the political damage their statements would inflict on the electoral prospects of their political progeny- the BJP in the polls that were round the corner when they chose to make these remarks. It is estimated that Bhagwat’s statement had cost the BJP dearly in the Bihar polls as it saw a massive consolidation of the electorate from the backward classes and weaker sections in favour of Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance. Now Vaidya has spoken ahead of the UP polls where the BSP is a major player for the Dalit votes and the Samajwadi Party banks on OBC politics. The impact can be anybody’s guess work. But the RSS mindset is clear. It does not care a wee bit about the negative impact of such statements on the electoral prospects of the BJP, and goes ahead regardless.
It does offer some palliatives to the BJP in the form of ‘damage control’ statements from functionaries like Sangh Sah Sarkaryawah Dattatreya Hosbale who strongly supported reservations and decried efforts by some parties and organisations to paint RSS as ‘anti-quota’. “After Manmohan Vaidya statement controversy at Jaipur Literature Festival, we had clarified that reservation must be continued and we repeat the same. There should not be any controversy over the issue any more,” he added.
But the fire has been lit. The reservation issue would continue to haunt the BJP and the RSS all throughout the UP poll campaign and in the wider national debate. It is true that even the chief architect of the constitution Dr B R Ambedkar had hinted that there should be a time limit on reservations, but this was with the expectation that within that period the social inequalities would be addressed. Now who can claim that we have a socially equitable system, and that the discrimination that warranted the need for reservations is over.
But there is the other side of the reality. The discrimination for the SC/ST and OBC classes has certainly not ended, but the upper castes that look up to the RSS for finding a solution to their problems are feeling the pinch of the caste-based reservation policy. They find that they are being squeezed out from institutions of high learning as the opportunities are being offered to the lesser qualified SC/ST and OBC candidates. It is at the behest of these interest groups that the RSS is prodding the Modi Sarkar for a review of the caste based reservation policy. Considering that the RSS word is law for the Modi Sarkar at a political opportune time, the government may go in for such a review.
But changing the system of reservations is a tough political challenge requiring the approval of the two thirds members of both the houses of the parliament. However, it can be safely asserted that in the short and medium term, both the RSS and the BJP are more interested in keeping the quota pot boiling rather than making the actual changes. As with all their ideas, at this stage they have not yet simply gone public with the implications of the quota review proposals.
In sync with the same approach senior BJP leaders will maintain a suitable ambiguity about the whole issue, and differentiate themselves from the RSS stand. But there would be no criticism of the Sangh leaders.
The rest of the players in the polity would naturally go hysteric about the entire episode and there would be animated discussions in the world of 24×7 television commentary.
In real terms this is a non-issue. In the sense that any amount of lung power expended on it would change anything on the ground. If anything, it would only raise questions about the decisions BJP may take about reservation should it have the power to amend the constitution. Then the fears of the Dalits, tribals and other backward castes would become real and would have to be negotiated. The RSS, we can say is waiting for that day to put its plans about reviewing the quota policy in action.
After the ascendance of a complete ultra right winger Donald Trump to power in the United States of America, who considers that he is a part of the global phenomena that was witnessed in Britain with the victory of the Brexiters, we in India can assert that the rise of the right wing began with the emergence of an RSS ideologue Narendra Modi as the prime minister. The democratic system of checks and balances may have cramped Modi’s style of functioning but there is no denying the ultimate goals of the BJP-RSS combine. The RSS is not apologetic about these targets.