The objective of reservation was to provide opportunities to those sections of people who were for generations socially oppressed and discriminated and kept backward. The Article 15(4) of the Constitution says, “Nothing shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens.” The benefits of reservation were meant for 10 years. But the vote back politics of successive governments has made the reservation a perpetual eternity.
And the Article 46 in the Directive Principles of State Policy ensures “The State shall promote with special care the education and economic interests of the weaker section of the people and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” Thus the reservation policy – known as the policy of protective discrimination or affirmation – was meant essentially for the poor and the marginalized sections of society. But it came to be abused, defeating the very objective of reservation.
It was V.P. Singh who brought the quota system for OBCs in education and government jobs by accepting the Mandal Commission recommendations. This had opened a Pandora’s box, with practically every community now claiming quota as an entitlement, wanting to be recognized one among the backwards, just to derive the benefits of quota in educational institutions and government jobs. What was meant to give backward castes at the bottom of social pyramid a leg up has now become something sought-after by affluent and dominant castes across the country. The agitation by Patels in Gujarat for including them in the category of OBC was misplaced, as the Patel community is in no way socially and economically backward. This has turned the reservation policy on its head. While reservation policy has benefited the SCs, the benefits mainly went to the privileged among them like Marathas, Pashwans, Athawales and Ambedkars. It has not been a level playing field.
The Maratha Kranti Morcha has intensified the agitation throughout Maharashtra, demanding 16% reservation for Marathas in education and government jobs, resulting four suicides by now, taking a violent turn, torching of vehicles. Marathas constitute 30% of the State population having 114 MLAs in the Assembly of 288 members. They dominate the politics and administration. Their demand is a matter of litigation in Bombay High Court. Their agitation has a counter reaction with the other OBCs, who constitute more than 50% of the state population, demanding rise in their quota proportionately. The Muslims have also now stepped up the demand for quota in education and jobs. Last year Bombay High Court upheld the previous government’s decision to provide 5% reservation to Muslims in education. But the Fadnavis government has not accepted this. There is no reason why the socially and educationally backward Muslims should not get the benefits of quota like the other backward classes. It is unfair to deny them the benefits of reservation on the ground of religion. The Dhangars community – a nomadic tribe – is also claiming the status of ST and wants its quota to be raised from 3.5%. The reservation policy unless handled with foresight by political parties of all hues, it may lead to civil strife, affecting the progress and development of the country.
It is pertinent to recall what the father of modern India – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – said in his letter dated June 27, 1961, addressed to the Chief Ministers, emphasising the need for empowering backward communities by giving them access to good education, and not by reserving jobs based on caste. He said: “I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in service. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities for good education. Everything else is provision of some kind of crutches which do not add to the strength or health of the body. But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people… I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal consideration. It has amazed me to learn that sometimes even promotions are based on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster.”
It is important to remind the politicians and the people at large; the reservation in education has not much improved the jobs opportunities of weaker sections in employment market due to poor communication skills and sub-standard education. The reason why the advanced communities – Pastels, Jats, Marathas and the like – are demanding reservation in education and jobs is unemployment and lack of job opportunities. The economic development is not leading to creating stable and regular jobs. Another reason is agrarian crisis, leading to fall in remunerative price for farm products. The government should take a firm reasoned stand than acting under pressure. None of the political parties is dared to question to zenith of the Maratha agitation for the fear of losing the vote bank. This is the direct result of politics of appeasement. The political parties make promises on the eve of elections which could not be fulfilled. And attempt to derive short term political dividends, through short-sighted approach, will have devastating effect on the nation. It is high time the quota system is abolished altogether so that the youth are motivated to work hard with dignity and self-belief and compete for positions in society and state, without any stigma of birth or baggage of caste.
G Ramachandram is a Professor of Political Science and retired Principal, who published his Magnus Opus
‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.