Idea of quota is neither novel nor innovative

Now that Parliament has passed the Constitution amendment bill providing for a new 10 per cent quota for the “economically backward” among those outside other quotas, what is likely to be its fall out? Evidently, a Pandora’s Box of new quota demands is set to be opened. This is because the government’s move will see the 50 per cent limit set for quotas by the Supreme Court being breached. And, once this happens, it will literally be free-for-all in the great quota race.

Expectedly, 10 per cent economic quota Bill has been challenged in Supreme Court, just 24 hours after it was swiftly piloted through both houses of Parliament. The petition filed by Youth for Utility, contended that the Bill violates the basic features of the Constitution and contradicts several Supreme Court judgments protecting the fundamental rights. The 50 per cent cap put down by the Supreme Court is already too high. Raising this any more will grievously injure meritocracy as well. For those very reasons B R Ambedkar, chief architect of the Constitution, was against expansive quotas.

In his Constitution Assembly speech on November 30, 1948, he has explicitly stated that reservation should be for minority of seats and only for backwards classes who did not have representation in the State. Instead of this self-limiting concept, quotas have continued to expand over the decade, driven by the force of vote bank politics. As a result, there is a race to the bottom today with communities demanding provisions originally meant for the most deprived sections of the society, that too only temporarily.

The relaxed criterion of the EWS (reservation for economically weaker sections) — such as annual income up to Rs 8 lakhs — make over 95 per cent of Indians eligible for it, which means that positions under the quota will broadly be recycled within the same groups. This looks like a version of the great Indian trick, a feel good gesture our political class doles out. Expect that this causes actual harm, sacrificing the principles of equality as well as merit in higher education and governance. Failures on jobs and education front are sought to be dealt by expanding the reservation empire.

If nation is to succeed, however, there is no sort cut around the hard task — providing quality education and jobs to its people. India’s political class must turn its mind to this, and the apex court must nudge its mind them down this road by reiterating the 50 per cent upper limit it had set. The proposal to give 10 per cent reservation like several other schemes of Modi Government, is neither novel nor innovative.

The Congress government, led by P Narasimha Rao, did provide similar reservation, but a nine-member bench had struck it down (1992). The present bill, passed by both the houses of parliament, may meet the same fate. The BJP, as a party, has not been a great votary of social justice through reservations. In fact, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagat called for a review of the reservation policy. But anticipating its political fallout in Bihar Assembly election, the BJP disowned Bhagwat’s remark.
India needs to see a stronger vision of benefiting all at once and not proposing advancement in chunks.

Harihar Swarup is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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