The Constitution (124 Amendment) Bill, 2019 The Genie is out Again!
With President Ram Nath Kovind on 12th January 2019 giving his assent to the The Constitution (124 Amendment) Bill, 2019, providing for 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the economically weaker sections in the general category, the genie of reservations is out again.
The Rajya Sabha on January 9th, 2019 passed the landmark Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10 per cent reservation in Jobs and Education, including privately run Universities and Colleges for higher education, to economically backward sections in the General Category. The Bill seeks to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. It seeks to add clause (6) in Article 15 to enable the state to provide reservations for “economically weaker sections” other than SCs, STs and OBCs. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill a day before. A notification in the official gazette stated that the legislation will be known as the Constitution (103 Amendment) Act, 2019 and that it shall come into force on such date as the Centre notifies.
The 10 per cent reservation will be in addition to the existing 50 per cent reservation given to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the sections it targets are the poor among the upper castes.
In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Modi said: “Glad to see such widespread support for the Bill. The House also witnessed a vibrant debate, where several members expressed their insightful opinions. It ensures a wider canvas for our Yuva Shakti to showcase their prowess and contribute towards India’s transformation.”
Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen described the proposed 10 per cent reservation bill as a “muddled thinking” that raises serious questions about its political and economic impact. “If the whole of the population is covered by reservation then that would be removal of reservation,” he told PTI in an interview. “Ultimately this is a muddled thinking. But the muddled thinking may have serious political and economic effect which are seriously questionable.”
During the debate on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, nearly all opposition parties said the Narendra Modi government had pushed through a Bill full of lacunae with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as the BJP’s recent electoral losses in three Hindi heartland states had left it shaken, and cautioned that it was unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny.
Congress MP Kapil Sibal asked if the government had collected any demographic data on economically weaker sections, and what would happen in states where dalits and OBCs were in majority. He wondered if this Bill would stand scrutiny of the nine-member Bench of the Supreme Court that stuck down 10 per cent reservation to EWS while delivering the Mandal judgment in 1992. Sibal said the central government had managed to create only 45,000 jobs annually in the last five years. “If you give 10 per cent reservation, you will give 4,500 jobs. You brought this Bill to benefit 4,500 people?” Sibal said that breaching the 50 per cent reservation cap was a “violation” at a time when similar cases were pending in the court.
Opposition can’t defend the Masterstroke
While all the abovesaid criticism of the move may hold some truth in it, there is no denying the fact that this is a masterstroke played by the Modi government which all the opposition parties are unable to avoid. The Opposition parties may cry hoarse about the timing of the Bill, but they have agreed to the quota and they can’t deny the upper caste their due and are not in the shape to antagonize one strong section of the society. This is one masterstroke, which the opposition parties are reluctantly playing along. The reason behind the opposition playing along is that they themselves have brought up the idea many a time but never had the courage to implement it. When Mayawati of Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP) rode to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, she demanded reservation in jobs for the poor belonging to the upper caste, and the Congress as well as the BJP supported the demand. Mayawati had won with the help of significant support by upper caste voters. Responding to Mayawati’s demand, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh had said, “If there are ideas about the problems faced by poor children from ‘other’ sections of the community, they should also be taken on board.” In 2011 also, she wrote to Manmohan Singh to include reservation for upper caste in the Ninth Scheedule of the Constitution. Before 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Samajwadi Party too promised to set up a savarna ayog or upper caste commission to address the issues faced by the community, including reservation for the poor among them.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had indicated in 2016 that the Andhra Pradesh government could soon extend reservation for the poor among upper castes. “We will conduct a survey. Based on that we will have no objection to extend reservation benefits to the economically-backward among the upper castes,” Naidu said. Even in Left governed Kerala, Kadakampally Surendran, CPI(M) leader and a minister in the Kerala government, urged for reservation based on economic conditions rather than caste while saying that Brahmins were the victims of land reforms . Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the courage to bring such legislation and the now its his time to reap the benefits.
Why BJP is Wooing Upper Caste?
The decision to bring this legislation seems to be mainly an attempt to address the concerns of the upper castes who have been annoyed by the BJP-led Union government recent move to restore the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The party believes that it had to face the ire of upper caste in the assembly elections which were held recently, particularly in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it lost power to arch rival Congress. The elections—it also lost Chhattisgarh—are the first examples of an upper caste backlash in assembly elections since the BJP-led government took over at the centre.
The argument which the party people are prophesying is that the decision is aimed at widening the social justice net to enable more people from different backgrounds to benefit from government jobs and education.
“We have received several reports and feedback that people, especially youth, felt that they were not part of the social justice net of the government. The idea to allow reservations for economically weaker sections would allow different communities, who are otherwise facing financial trouble, to benefit,” said a senior BJP leader while talking to Livemint.com.
BJP leaders also point out that in the last four years of the ruling at the centre, different communities have led agitations demanding reservations, including Marathas in Maharashtra, Patels in Gujarat and Jats in Haryana. All three states are ruled by the BJP and their governments had to face the ire of these communities.
“This decision should address the demands of Patels, Marathas and Jats in a way. There is a genuine concern among members of the upper caste who are not financially stable, the government is duty-bound to address the concerns of the upper castes,” the BJP leader added in the same report.
It is to some extent true that there was a growing sentiment within the upper castes that the BJP government was only working for socially weaker sections to win elections and that the party was not protecting the rights of the communities that helped it win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Modi government had become the cynosure of the upper castes and the people were seeing this government as a government which was trying to change its social base by forgetting about the demands of its core voters. This decision is also an attempt to soothe the flaring sentiment that the BJP no longer cares for its core constituency.
It is difficult to ascertain whether this decision would benefit the party in the long run.
Regardless of whether the Supreme Court strikes down the government’s decision to introduce 10 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs for economically weaker sections among social groups excluded from reservation until now, for the time being it is seen as a move to check the voters who are deserting the BJP in the wake of restoration of draconian SC/ST laws.
The quota dream which the BJP is selling to the upper caste people, does have an unanticipated consequences. For one, it is likely to consolidate the Other Backward Classes and Dalits. For another, it will pave the way for more people to demand proportionality to be introduced, that government jobs and college seats must be distributed among social groups in proportion to their share in the population. In this country, reservations is seen to be a tool for the assertion of lower caste groups and their success in breaking the hegemony of the upper castes. This Bill will imply the restoration of the upper class hegemony. While Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party are opposing the 10 per cent quota tooth and nail, they are also raising the pitch for the removal of 50 per cent cap on the reservations put through the famous Indira Shawney case in Supreme Court. The parties in the South already have started singing the same tune.
The 10 per cent reservation policy will make it difficult for the Modi supporters and Modi himself to drum up his Other Backward Class(OBC) origins in the elections, which he and his supporters portray every now and then in the Hindi heartland, where these OBCs are in majority. He will now be portrayed as the yes man of the upper castes in these areas by his opponents. After all, he has given reservations to socially advanced groups before fulfilling his promise of subcategorising the Other Backward Classes to the benefit of the relatively underprivileged groups among them. All this will likely consolidate the Other Backward Classes against the party.
If seen from the abovesaid scenario, the Modi government has played with the fire by pushing for the 10 per cent reservation. The only certain advantage is that he should be able to arrest the desertion from the BJP of the upper castes and social groups such as the Patels. The Congress hopes to craft its comeback story by tapping into the discontent of these groups. Now that Modi has offered these groups a share in the reservation system, the grand old party might not perform as well in the 2019 election as it expects.
Reservations in India were brought primarily with the objective of providing opportunities and better living standards for weaker and under privileged sections of the society. Dr. B R Ambedkar fought for bringing reservation system into Indian constitution to help economically various caste people who were unable to have sufficient opportunities to grow. However caste based reservation gradually led to huge exploitation of the system both politically and socially. Instead of bringing equality and growth in the economy this system has become inefficient and easy to get away with. With the legislation signed by the President, hopes are high that now parties will consider economic condition to be the criterion for the reservation, instead of treading their favoured divisive politics of caste.
By Nilabh Krishna