FPJ Editorial: Reservations Are No Panacea

FPJ Editorial: Reservations Are No Panacea

What looks like the makings of a veritable Mandal 2.0 will have to cast its full spell on the national polity, and then force an uneasy solution before receding into the background

EditorialUpdated: Sunday, November 26, 2023, 11:25 PM IST
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It is unlikely that the question of caste reservations will be resolved anytime soon. What looks like the makings of a veritable Mandal 2.0 will have to cast its full spell on the national polity, and then force an uneasy solution before receding into the background. It is to be remembered that in case of original Mandal reservations, the then Congress party was completely opposed to these while the BJP was a reluctant supporter. Now finding itself out in the cold and desperate to regain power at the Centre, it is Rahul Gandhi’s Congress which has become a shrill demander of caste surveys and caste-based reservations. The Mandal parties are now having to vie with Rahul Gandhi for unleashing Mandal 2.0. For, after Bihar’s caste survey and further enhancement in reservations for various reserved categories, the state has a total of 75% reservations in government jobs and in educational institutions. Aware that on being challenged the recent lot of reservations will be nullified by the Supreme Court for breaching the 50% cap, the state government now wants the enabling Bills to be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to make them non-justiciable. We can expect bitter politics ahead over the demand for the Bihar Bills to be included in the Ninth Schedule.

Meanwhile, the ongoing agitation for reservations to the Marathas too does not lend itself to any easy fix. Various parties in power at different times in the recent past have sought to resolve the issue, including by conceding the demand for Maratha reservations, but the higher courts have stuck by the decision to defend the 50% barrier. With the OBCs unwilling to share the 27% reservations pie with the Marathas, how the ruling coalition would handle the Maratha agitation remains to be seen. Given that the parties now in the Opposition too were up against the same protest for Maratha reservations, is it too much to expect that there will be an all-party consensus in the larger interest of the state?

Not entirely unlinked to the caste reservations is the question of jobs under the sons of the soil provision. The Haryana government in 2020 had reserved 75% jobs in the private sector for local residents. Though initially jobs offering Rs 50,000 monthly salary were proposed to be covered, but subsequently the salary cap was lowered to Rs 30,000. Last week the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the law for it seeking to curb every citizen’s fundamental right to work anywhere in the country. The state government has now threatened to challenge the nullification of its law in the Supreme Court. It is highly unlikely that the apex court will reverse the nullification of the Haryana law. Let us not delude ourselves. At the root of the demand for more and more reservations by more and more new castes is the incapacity of the economy to create enough jobs for the burgeoning population. Reservations do not create jobs, even for the vast numbers of jobless SCs, STs, OBCs and others in the fortunate reserved category. For the state is in no position to employ every able-bodied man and woman belonging even to the reserved categories who enters the job market. Yet, there is a good deal of emotional palliative that those in the reserved category get simply by the fact of belonging to it.

Doubtless, the benefit of reservations has gone to the most dominant sections among the beneficiary class, causing heartburn to those left behind in the reserved category. However, over the years hitherto agrarian castes in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, etc too have joined the reservation bandwagon due to the inability of farming to support expanded families. But the all-important point is that even with reservations neither the state nor the private sector is in a position to create so many jobs that they can employ everyone. The only solution is for the state to raise the standard of education and for it to grow the economy at a double digit rate so that there are avenues of productive employment in the state or private sector for everyone. Reservation is not the panacea it is made out to be. Quality education and faster economic growth is.

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