Mulayam Singh’s Half Measure!
Samajwadi Party led by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has announced its opposition to the Cabinet proposal granting reservation to SC-ST castes for promotions in government service. Mr Mulayam Singh has enunciated the right response for the wrong reason. The proposal by the government with its far reaching political and social consequences was actuated by the basest political considerations. In order to embarrass the BJP during its disruption of parliament on the Coalgate issue the government introduced this Bill to alienate the Dalit vote from the BJP. The BJP was in a fix about whether to persist with disruption and alienate the SC vote by blocking the Bill or to relent and allow Parliament to function. The attitude to the proposal by both Congress and BJP is determined solely by electoral considerations with nary a thought for the national interest. Similarly, Mr Mulayam Singh is opposing the Bill solely to propitiate his Backward Class vote bank. That is why his response is a half measure. It fails to address the central issue.
The central issue is not the desirability or otherwise of granting reservation for promotions in government jobs. The central issue is whether caste based quotas for job reservation are at all justified and in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution. Originally the Constitution granted reservation only to SC and ST communities for ten years to allow social imbalance created by untouchables to be redressed. Over sixty years have passed. Reservation for SC and ST continues. Despite this long period the grievances of these communities related to impoverishment, social bias and atrocities committed against them have not abated but multiplied. Instead of reappraising this failed policy reservation has been granted in addition to Other Backward Classes (OBC) because members of extreme backward castes who in truth were as deprived and discriminated against as Dalits raised their voices in protest and demanded equal treatment. Vote bank politics persuaded all political parties to accept their demand.
By circumventing the Constitution through semantic jugglery the government distorted the meaning of its text to allow this. Regrettably, the Supreme Court allowed this violation of the Constitution by upholding the measure. On 26 December 2011 it was pointed out in these columns: “Clause 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution states: “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.’” But by this Article reservation on the basis of caste or gender is equally debarred… Backward castes got reservation through too-clever-by-half distortion of the Constitution which the Supreme Court regretfully and tragically endorsed. Clause 4 of Article 16 of the Constitution states: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.” So all that the government did was to make a list of criteria to determine class backwardness and include caste as one criterion. After that weight was given to each criterion listed. Caste was given undue weight that rendered backward castes virtually to become backward class. How the Supreme Court endorsed this official chicanery is a mystery. If caste on principle is debarred from becoming a criterion for reservation it cannot be that the principle applies when it is the primary criterion but does not apply if it is a subsidiary criterion among other criteria. A principle is a principle come what may.”
On May 29, 2012, it was speculated in these columns why the Supreme Court justified its wrong decision. I wrote: “The government must have seized on the word “only” from Article 16(2) which states ‘No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex…’ to twist its meaning and imply that any of these criteria would cease to disqualify reservation if combined with other criteria. This is strange logic and it needs to be reappraised which hopefully the SC might if the issue comes up before it again. Logically, either reservation for both OBC and religious minorities is unconstitutional, or reservation on the basis of religion is constitutional.”
Inevitably the demands for quotas spread. Inevitably stupid short sighted politicians accepted each demand for sake of vote bank politics. Inevitably the entire issue has become as farcical as to hold up the nation to ridicule. For social justice politicians conceded that the “creamy layer” among OBC segment should be debarred from reservation. For social justice it was conceded that the extremely poor among the forward castes be also granted reservation because of their condition. As a result affluent OBC members are denied reservation. Poor forward caste members are entitled to reservation. More absurdly, the same caste may be forward in one state and backward in another. Baniyas are forward in Delhi but backward in Bihar . Yadavs are forward in Haryana but backward in UP. And yet marriages in India are predominantly on the basis of caste. Would the child of a backward Bihar Baniya married to a forward Delhi Baniya be forward or backward? This renders caste-based reservation a policy that reflects collective insanity. But no political party accepts the logical corollary that reservation should be granted only on the basis of economic criteria regardless of caste or community. If that were done the parties would lose their respective vote banks kept captive in impoverishment while being fed false hopes and promises. Meanwhile the demands for new quotas continue to spread. The Gujjars demand ST status and the Jats demand OBC status. Bitter strife between warring castes intensifies to divide society and render India into a collection of separate tribes instead of a nation. How might this rot be stopped?
It is for the OBC leaders to take the initiative. I appeal to Mr Mulayam Singh, Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Nitish Kumar and other stalwarts among the OBC leaders to pause and reflect. Caste quotas are dividing society, intensifying intra-caste enmity, psychologically damaging the morale of weaker castes and causing increasing resentment among forward caste youth. By pursuing this policy these leaders are harming their constituencies. These leaders should take the lead and propose the following. After five years all reservation on the basis of caste and community must end. This should be decided on the precondition that in this period the government will divert its resources to whatever extent necessary to ensure that every child has free compulsory primary education. During this period the government must ruthlessly implement the neighbourhood school policy to ensure that every child has access to quality education and a level field is created for all communities. In order to address the caste bias that undoubtedly exists at present I propose that instead of reservation quotas for the public there should be reservation quotas in all selection boards throughout the nation. Qualified and distinguished members from all communities and castes that exist in plenty should be adequately represented in these boards to ensure that bias and all suspicion of bias are removed.
If the OBC leaders find these proposals unacceptable I request them to seek the opinion of their own children. The result may surprise them. It is ironic that while the nation is rightly obsessed with the management of all kinds of natural resources like coal and iron, it entirely ignores the criminal neglect of India ’s most precious natural resource, which is human talent. The information era has created new awareness and confidence in the younger generation about their abilities that was sadly absent in members of our generation. Let OBC leaders heed their children. They may impart to leaders a wisdom they never acquired themselves.
By Rajinder Puri