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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

Reservations sans Development

Saturday 3 October 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Leaders of different communities had so much confidence in the fairness of the country when it won freedom that none of them wanted reservations. The Muslim leaders rejected the then Home Minister Sardar Patel’s offer of a 15 per cent quota in government jobs and educatio-nal institutions. Their argument was that reservations fostered a parochial thinking. The country had paid an enormous price in the shape of partition for the communal electorate introduced by the British.

Law Minister B.R. Ambedkar, himself a Dalit, said that his community did not want to walk with the help of crutches all their lives. After a lot of pressure, Ambedkar was persuaded to accept reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for 10 years. Little did he know then that reservations would become a permanent feature because of the vote-bank it provided.

It is unfortunate that the caste system, even after hundreds of years, remains an integral part of Hindu society. The Dalits (untouchables) are still at the lowest rung of the ladder. This is an open secret that rural areas have separate habitations for the Dalits, at a distance from where the upper castes live. A debate has started in India on whether reservations needed a relook, not on the discrimination which is still practised against the Dalits openly and unashamedly.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s suggestion has jolted the status quo so much that the BJP has distanced itself from the proposal of another look at reservations. The vested interests continue to be decisive. Many Dalits have embraced Islam to escape discrimination. But some have found, to their horror, that the tag of discrimination stays with them even in the casteless Islam once classification is acquired.

True, many pronouncements, some by the law courts, have pointed out that the “creamy layer” should at least be barred from reservations. But they are the most vocal and most influential. This explains why the RSS chief remains a lonely figure in the entire Sangh Parivar.

His disappointment must have increased after Rajasthan, a BJP-run State, gave quota to the poor in the upper castes. This humanistic gesture reads well but it is against what the Constitution-makers had in mind. They gave reservations only to the Dalits because the Hindu society, for centuries, had denied them their basic dues. It was a sort of repentance translated into concessions.

There were poor among the upper castes even at that time. But both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were able to persuade the Constituent Assembly that the upper caste must do the penance for the excesses committed. The state is violating the Supreme Court’s directive that reservations should not exceed the limit of 50 per cent. Unfortunately, this malady is spreading.

It is comical to see today that the Patels, a well-off business community, demanding reservations. The government in Gujarat, again run by the BJP, is dealing severely with the maverick leader Hardik Patel who is agitating for reservations for an upper-caste community like the Patels.

Other States are keenly watching whether both Rajasthan and Gujarat get away with the quota because they have the same thing in mind. The Narendra Modi Government should have taken the BJP-run State, particularly Rajasthan, to task because the entire federal structure faces the danger of a collapse. The Modi Government has a strange kind of confidence that when the chips are down all States, with a predominant Hindu majority population, will not go to the brink.

Probably, Modi will use the whip of discipline after the Assembly elections in Bihar. Any kind of action at this time, when the State is only a few weeks away from polling, can boomerang and harm the BJP’s fortunes.

However, time has come when all political parties should sit together to ponder over reservations on the basis of caste and creed. A constitutional position for only 10 years has become permanent. All parties support the continuation whenever such a constitutional amendment comes before Parliament.

A country which has the word, secularism, in its Preamble of the Constitution, should break the shackles of caste. Socialism requires the demolition of caste barriers. The ruling BJP should initiate a legislation to lay down the criteria on the basis of economic status. A poor Brahmin is no less deserving than a Dalit. What about the Muslims? The Sachar Committee pointed out that their condition has been worse than that of the Dalits. With the soft-Hindutva embracing the country, the future of minorities is becoming more and more questionable.

If there was a survey, it would underline the fact that unemployment among the Muslims is falling. Since they cannot afford good schools, they figure less in jobs through competitive examinations. They are not even a fraction of some 18 per cent of population in the country. Their backwardness should be a matter of concern. Idle hands take to desperate methods.

What is more important than anything else is to foster social relations between Hindus and Muslims. The togetherness witnessed during Diwali or Id is missing. Mixed localities have become fewer. I find Muslims taking less interest in national heroes who were inspiration to the country.

Take, for instance, the debate over Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s files. It unnecessarily became an emotional issue. For days, the entire nation was engrossed in discussing whether the files should be made public or not. The nation suddenly became oblivious to the basic issue of development. It must keep uppermost in its mind that one-third of Indians go to bed with just one meal in 24 hours.

The Modi Government has ruled the country for more than one-and-a-half year. Its promise to give livelihood to all remains as distant as it was on the day he took oath to assume power. Except for the usual rhetoric, there is nothing on the ground to indicate that his promise of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas is near implementation. The nation is still waiting.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com