India: A ‘JUST’ RESERVATION OR JUST A RESERVATION

Image result for 10% quota for upper caste for public sector employment
Image credit: Sirf News Network

by Upasana Detha and Vishal Beniwal 6 February 2019

Politicians are not who make promises alone,

Economists are not who measure production alone,

Sociologists are not who study society alone,

Ideals are those who substantially promote equality and justice in all zones.’

The political promise of 10% quota for upper caste for public sector employment comes as no surprise to an economy which had been stuck by jobless growth for a long time. Further, the infiltration of social phenomenon-caste and politics in each others sphere is not new to Indian polity. It traces itself to the colonial era. However, nationalist movement sought to establish a boundary between the two. Yet, today it has re-emerged as a phenomenon, hostaging Indian minds and feeding on their subconscious.

The quick re-marriage of caste and politics only after a short separation period during national movement can be seen as a part of working of Indian constitution in Indian polity and federalization of power. The rise of secular regional parties which led to linguistic reorganization of states were indeed caste based political associations. Example: Reddies and kammas became dominant caste in Andhra Pradesh and Maratha’s in Maharashtra.  Thus, the rise of regional parties, decline of one-party system, rise of coalition politics worked as a two way sword- democratizing and simultaneously castesizing the polity and society. The seeds sown began to sprout in 1960 with the rise of OBC politics and later in 1990 in the name of Dalit politics represented by BSP. Recently and prominently, since 2016, there has been a rising demand by upper caste for reservation as seen in the case of Patidars in Gujarat, Rajputs in Rajasthan, etc. Just yesterday, the parliament passed the 10% reservation quota bill for upper caste lower class community. This needs an analysis on three aspects: First, what is the constitutional validity of such a bill. Second, is it a clarion for social change. Third, what would be its impact on general elections of 2019.

CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY

The constitution enshrines the promises of freedom movement, which included achievement of social emancipation and replacement of an unequal social order as foremost objectives. Upholding this Article 16 (4) of the Indian Constitution provides state to make provisions for reservation of appointments and posts in favor of any backward class of citizens. Noteworthy is the further text of article which states such citizens in the opinion of state are not adequately represented in the services under state. This then suggests two constitutional grounds for reservation (i) historical exclusion from administrative services and; (ii) social backwardness.  Social backwardness based reservation, as a constituent of social justice, forms an essential feature of basic structure of constitution. This was reiterated in the first amendment to the constitution, wherein Clause (4) to Article 15 was inserted. This called state to make provisions for the advancement of ‘socially and educationally backward classes of citizens’ or for SCs and STs. As the record of debates in constituent assembly and later first cabinet makes it evident that word ‘economic’ was consciously dropped and remaining provisions vehemently supported by Nehru and Ambedkar. Further the nine judge bench of Indra Sahwney case suggested a backward caste can not be determined exclusively with reference to economic criterion. Thus, even an amendment to the constitution with effect of taking away the basis of Indira Sahwney judgement, would fail the basic structure doctrine.

IS IT A CLARION FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

The answer to it is unified till extent it is a clarion for social change, however, the form of social change is contested. First view represented by  BJP vice-president, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe described the reservation for upper caste as a step to widen the social justice net. The second and also the contrary view is represented by Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani who allege reservation to upper caste to be a conspiracy to end caste based reservations. Both the views suggest an assessment largely based on subjective yet fixed-assumption on relation of caste, depravity, reservation and justice. Any assertion of form of social change should involve the intervening factors which emerge with the functioning of polity. For example, the case of Rajasthan where RPSC has consecutively for two years set the benchmark for OBCs higher than general. Thus, inventing a new identity for the term ‘reservation’ itself.

Despite no conclusive argument on economic reservation being a clarion for social change, two observations can be conclusively made. First, given the high benchmark of Rs. 8 lacs per annum most of the upper caste can easily fall in this category. Second, already at least 30% position holders in public sector examinations belong to upper caste. In such a case, as Yogendra Yadav says, ‘10% reservation for upper caste is offering the upper caste a lollipop which it already had in it’s pocket.’

IMPACT ON GENERAL ELECTIONS OF 2019

The Constitution makers envisioned reservation as a medicine to bring equality, establish social justice in a new born sovereign nation infected by maladies of disparities. Over the years, as opposed to it being a temporary healer, it has a become a lifeline of political career. Caste forms the mosaic of Indian politics. In India people don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste. Thus, political parties increasingly seek to establish their secular credentials on issues of caste and religion. As the number of castes can not be increased and mobilized overnight, hence, the number of reserved categories are targeted, more and more people are added in it. This has two implications- First, it increases the number of reapers from the tree of reservation and limits the fruit it offers to each. Second, it is more about reserving parties political power then offering caste reservation. Thus, it makes everyone vulnerable except the political parties who instead deepen their roots in the soil and become more necessary then ever. As this passion led politics continues to spread itself the real issues of development are sidelined and buried under the sheet. Politics of reason is soon overshadowed by politics of identity and passion. In short it is the politics of divide and rule.

WAY FORWARD

India has complex and colorful masses with multi-layered identities. The universal identity of existence as a nation is very new as compared to our particular identity of membership of a culture, religion or linguistic group. However, this should not translate as parochial identities becoming both old and permanent and national identity becoming new and temporary. The Indian model of unity in diversity today stands in crisis as never before. The solace to this conflict lies only in separating politics from passion and focusing on real issues. The recent surpassing of 50% limit on reservation has only opened pandora box for more agitations. The real issue is to promote employment growth in public sector and providing quality working conditions in private sector. The inequalities which have become deeply entrenched in our society call for an immediate action. Despite crisis over the years our constitution sustained but continued translation of socio-economic disparities into identity politics can lead to unmitigated damage to this compact. Thus, the real challenge today is of substantial equality and social justice. Thus, it can be reiterated:

Politicians are not who make promises alone,

Economists are not who measure production alone,

Sociologists are not who study society alone,

Ideals are those who substantially promote equality and justice in all zone.’

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