How Politics Breathes Reservations in India – Reservation has always been a political tool and a subject of heated debate. Recently, this debate has been ignited with the proposal of the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha, demand for caste census by opposition leaders and introduction of 27% OBC and 10% EWS reservation in NEET by PM Modi. So, what is all this and what is the history and intend of reservations? Why do I oppose Reservation? And other similar questions will be answered in this blog. Read my last piece on reservation HERE
So, without further ado let’s jump right into our blog, How Politics Breathes Reservations in India
History and Significances of Reservation
One of the very first instances of reservation can be traced back to 1902 in Kolhapur, Maharastra under Shahu IV’s rule when the maharaja introduced reservations to encourage social mobility towards backward castes. The Britishers fell in but unlike few others, I won’t say the intend was bad back then. Others argue that Britishers followed their divide and rule policy and reservations were just another means.
They brought reservations through the Indian Council’s Act 1909, the Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935, and others. Interestingly, the last known caste census was done around this time as well which is 1931 after which they simply didn’t publish the statistics publicly anymore. Interestingly, there was a study of castes upon students of reputed engineering colleges back in 1921. I wasn’t aware of this until a popular platform for UPSC students’ coaching drew it forward while conveniently stating that the data will be similar even today, yes 100 years forward.
Anyways, moving forward, the first reservation policy post-independence was implemented in Madras colleges in 1950 and soon after it was challenged in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, 1951. The apex court finally stuck it down saying it violated the constitution. Many such writ petitions were filed after that till date, but back then some of the important ones was, State of Kerala v. N.M Thomas, 1976 where the petitioners appealed against the 68% reservation. The Supreme Court in an attempt to balance merit capped the upper limit 50%. And down the line, this cap will be adhered to but not long as politicians grow desperate and hungry for power.
Kelkar And Mandal Commision
First Backward Class Commission was Kaka Kelkar’s Kelkar Commission. The Commission recognized 2,599 backward groups based on socio-economic factors. Ironically, Kelkar himself criticized the commission’s methodology and then came the infamous B.P Mandal’s Mandal Commission in 1979. This commission recognized 3,743 backward groups that constituted 52% of the population.
Remember, the caste census of 1931? Yes, surprisingly a commission in 1979 based its findings on that data. A data that was half a century old! A data that was brought by British India! A data that is obsolete due to newer methodologies in the science of statistics and lots of such issues were pointed out. They too based their findings on socio-economic factors such as literacy rates, employment in manual labor, drinking water being available beyond 500 meters, kucha housing etc.
Huge protests roared as reservations rolled out based on Mandal Commission’s report. The then government became the scrapgoat. Why I say scapegoat is because they were elected out but reservations weren’t and every government used reservations as an effective tool after that. That was the age of Mandal-Madir, as where on one hand caste was the highlight on another hand the Ayodhya Ram Mandir was a highlight.
Almost 3 years after the infamous Sawhney Judgement, the Parliament inserted Article 16(4A) to include reservations even in promotions. Similarly, CEI Act of 2006 primarily brought reservations in education as well. Then came the Supreme Court’s words on the alleged ‘creamy layer’. I raise a doubt as the creamy layer remained an urban legend. On the ground, it was barely practiced. And that is what more effectively births the anti-reservation debate. How can socially and economically deprived classes opt for IITs, NLUs, IIMs where the fees are super high even for an average middle class?
Every person in his/her life has met a person having a fake SC/ST, OBC, EWS certificate. The abundance of such fake certificates has brought the upliftment debate off the track. And the final nail in the coffin is killing of merit. Amongst cut-throat competitions, individuals with thousands of rank below snatching a seat away. The question is what happens to the one who had the merit?
27th Constitution Amendment Bill
The 127th Constitution Amendment Bill will amend clauses 1 and 2 of Article 342A and also introduce a new clause 3. The Bill will also amend Articles 366 (26c) and 338B (9). The 127th Amendment Bill aims to clarify that states can keep their “state list” of OBCs in place, as was the case before the Supreme Court’s decision. Article 366 (26c) identifies the socially and educationally disadvantaged.
The amendment was required after the apex court upheld the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act in May but stated that the president would decide which groups would be placed on the state OBC list based on the findings of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). And the opposition supports it, as we all predicted. Lately, the opposition was seen united and protested and demanded answers during the whole monsoon session. An occurrence that was seen after years. The reason was alleged snooping unto them using NSO’s Pegasus. Out of many issues, this was in the forefront and saw immense outrage.
We all know how the parties unite, come what may if it’s for their benefit. An instance I highlighted in a previous article i.e. Elections In India: The Tale of Two Things. This amendment as well will benefit them politically as it brings powers to state governments. That’s How Politics Breathes Reservations in India
How Politics Breathes Reservations in India
Indian Express newspaper as on 10th August, on its front page, published a report that says how the Bihar government denied SC/ST scholarships for more than 6 years now. Yes, 6 YEARS!! The reason given for the last 3 years is ‘technical issues. How convenient is it, no? A technical issue so grave that an entire state government has been struggling for 3 whole years. But sadly, there won’t be any outrage over this. Or even reports say that government schools have no teachers for years, or even when government schools have no proper infrastructure or when roti and salt is served as mid-day meal because that surprisingly doesn’t violate the rights of backward classes.
Reservations that were once necessary provided that the government fulfilled its duty as a welfare state and provided quality educations, vocational training, infrastructure, scholarships etc, have now become political weaponry. It’s no secret that parties try to capture some decisive castes as vote banks. And the best and efficient way is to declare reservations 12-6 months before elections. Jats, Gujjars and Marathas who were considered as majority classes are now demanding reservations.
The question is for how long?
70+ years of reservation has not uplifted the society then is reservations even the answer?
If it is working and a considerable amount has gained social mobility then do we require reservations anymore?
What is the basis of reservations and their forever increasing numbers?
Are the socio-economic factors used by Mandal Commissions even relevant today?
If gaining social mobility to the underprivileged was the motive since 1902, then can’t EWS effectively replace other forms of reservations?
How can we follow reservation policy even without a regular flow of national-level data on it?
Can one person enjoy its benefit an infinite number of times at different places throughout his/her life?
Also Read: State Legislatures: A Doomsday Clock