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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 13 New Delhi March 16, 2019

Ten Per Cent Quota: The Megalomania of Savarna Reservation

Sunday 17 March 2019


by Navneet Sharma and Anamica

“The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.”

—Bertrand Russell

The year 2019 arrived with a thud. The highly branded “invincibility” of the concordant couple at the helm bit the dust in electoral politics in the Hindi heartland. The land beneath their feet had slipped and something was required to arrest it. The delusion of power came to play and the ten per cent quota Bill was placed in Parliament and got the presidential assent in record time. Though there are many other similar Bills like the women’s represen-tation reservation Bill, which is awaiting its turn since two decades, the cogency of the political class across party lines on this issue was no wonder as the issue of reservation in jobs and educational institutions forms both the social and emotive narrative in India and no one wants to be seen as being on the other side of the fence. In this commentary we will not be commenting on the political expediency of this act but its implications for sociological and academic discourse. We attempt to appreciate how this Bill, which will not be able to stand scrutiny at the court of law, can alter the discourse on the reservation issue and other positive affirmation steps of the Indian state or future governments.

The Quota and the Vote-bank

The ‘ten per cent quota for forward castes’, as the government calls it, is above the 22.5 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes; and the govern-ment plans to implement this quota for the economically weaker sections of the ‘upper’ caste population by amending Articles 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution. This quota applies to people whose family income is not more than Rs 8 lakh per annum, who own land less than five acres where the house of residence is below 1000 sq ft; and with these qualifying criteria this quota seems merely a last-minute googly by the ruling party before the general Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

This quota, however, is not the first attempt by any government to provide reservation on the basis of economic class and not caste; it was first proposed in 1992 by the then Narasimha Rao-led government but was stuck down by the Supreme Court. Hence both the BJP and Congress governments have made attempts to lure this section of society for their benefits. The Bill is indeed a political stunt because it is proposed just three months before the elections and the BJP, being the party in power, would be aware of the fact that this Bill cannot stand in the court because of 50 per cent maximum being a law which implies that the seats reserved for backward communities in education or employment can’t exceed 50 per cent in total. Also, in Indra Sawhney’s case, the Supreme Court affirmed that reservation should be accorded to a class on the basis of certain parameters which grant relative weightage of 1:2:3 to social, educational and economic statuses respectively and reservation on the ground of any of these three indicators separately is completely invalid. Hence, the 10 per cent quota proposed by the government is in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s previous judgments. Amartya Sen also calls this reservation Bill the product of ‘muddled thinking’ which may have serious economic, political and social consequences; and quotes that ‘if the whole of the population is covered by reservation then that would be the removal of reservation’.

As Sen points out, the canon presented by the government includes nearly the entire population of the country under this reservation Bill as the 70th National Sample Survey on Land and Livestock Holdings in India (2013) shows that nearly 92 per cent of people in India hold less than five acres of land; and with this statistics, which envelop most of the citizens, the purpose of reservation dissolves. Also, in this quota, the cut-off of economic backwardness does not form a homogenous group, as it covers and brings in the people living in posh localities of South Delhi or South Mumbai, where very few residential houses are more than 1000 sq ft, being too affluent and rich in competition with those who cannot even dream to own a shanty in these areas. Moreover, with the norm of annual income being less than Rs 8 lakhs to qualify for the quota, even most of the civil servants, university teachers, government lawyers, doctors and their children who have most of the economic and educational assistance would pass for availing this economically backward reservation benefit alongside children of people who have been historically under-privileged.

With these vindications, the quota indeed appears to be an election gimmick by the ruling party to appease more and more social and economic groups, as the criteria of economic backwardness given by the party applies to nearly 90 to 95 per cent of the Indian population, and hence covers the wider population simultaneously extending the vote-bank of the party. Also, with the ‘prodigious’ diversity that is ingrained in more than the population which is engulfed by the 10 per cent quota Bill, it is undeniably plausible that the quota, which on paper is open to all, will be utilised largely by the people who belong to the upper caste, class and have been oppressors rather than the oppressed and marginalised in the past and would continue to be one with the implementation of this quota. Also, similar to the ‘White-Man’s Burden’, which implies that it is the duty of the White race to civilise the entire world, a concept of ‘Savarna’s Burden’ may emerge in which the rich Savarnas may view it as their burden to accommodate the backward caste, class, minorities and women rather than viewing reservation as a matter of right for every citizen to achieve equity and equality.

The Politics of Convenience and Fragmentation

The purpose of any ‘reservation’ is to abolish the historical inequality based on religion, caste or gender by bridging the gap between the privileged and deprived sections of society. This very spirit of social justice would therefore collapse under the 10 per cent quota Bill and instead of eradicating caste-based inequality, it would possibly exacerbate casteism in society. For instance, as the Dalit community has been further divided into the ‘Ati-Dalit and ‘Maha-Dalit’, it is absolutely possible that with this reservation, the category of the ‘Ati-Savarna’ and ‘Maha-Savarna’ may loom for the people who do not take up the reservation; and hence, the assertion of the BJP of minimising fragmentation in society through this reservation Bill may prove to be only a deception. Also, the RSS’ aim at consolidating the Hindu religion and the broadening the Hindu vote-bank by making Dalits associate themselves with the Hindu identity may boomerang and the BJP may end up dividing the Hindu religion and their vote-bank even more as new fragments may search for different political identities and cohort as vote-bank by other parties also. Furthermore, not just caste but class divisions may also get amplifiedwith the implementation of this quota as with reference to caste-based reservation.

A discourse emerged that SCs and STs are ‘backward’ because they lack the desired merit and it is possible that the same polemic would be used against the economically weaker class also. It might be contended that the people are poor because they do not possess the required ‘merit’ and are undeserving to be brought to the decision-table like the backward castes and this assertion would put the onus of being socially and economically backward on the people themselves who are sufferers rather than the sections who own different resources and use them to hegemonise others who lack it. Thus, the social category or caste, which was considered a demerit earlier, is now being replaced by the economic class; and poverty, which was a virtue in the Gandhian narrative where the poverty was reverberation of honesty and earnestness, would now be seen as a vice and a result of meritless-ness and indolence of people, especially those who are Dalits.

In this commentary we have not delved into the concerns pertaining to 200- or 13-point roster reservation in the faculty appointments at the colleges and university level as it is another big conspiracy to keep the Dalit teachers and discourse out of the universities; this deserves a separate detailed analysis. But with this ten per cent quota Bill having been approved, and no ‘stay’ by the Supreme Court and dilly-dallying by the government in bringing the ordinance and soon the ‘code of conduct’ for parliamentary elections will be imposed and by the time the people of India (Dalit-bahujan) will gear up to react and respond, University and College faculty appointments will be lapped up by the brahminical hegemony and people with connections to the Nagpur-based cultural organisation.

It can, hence, be reckoned that the reservation, which is regarded as a fundamental right by the Indian Constitution, may not be able to do justice with issues of the communities which have been historically disadvantaged, oppressed and discriminated against; and ‘reservation’ may get reduced to a poverty alleviation programme only rather than being a constitu-tional right. Besides, a welfare state and its leaders should work towards the welfare of all but this ‘quota’ gimmick exhibits the megalo-mania of the ruling party leader who has assumed that he is not the ‘pradhan-sevak’ but ‘pradhan-vitrak’ and is given carteblanche for the distribution of state bankroll and opportunities out of his ‘rajkosh’. Moreover, it is difficult to presume that the Godse worshippers who could not even reconcile with the Gandhi’s Harijan could appreciate the concept and nuances of social justice and positive affirmation for Ambedkar’s Dalit-bahujan.


Jaising, I. (2019), ‘Why the 10 per cent Quota could fail the Constitutional Test’, Bloomberg Quint, retrieved from

Khare, H. (2019), ‘Reservation and Narendra Modi: Here Comes Our Very Own Mr Ten Per Cent’, The Wire, retrieved from

Khurana, N. (2019), ‘The Way Forward for Caste-Based Reservations in India’, The Wire, retrieved from

Mahaprashasta, A. (2019), ‘Optics, Not Welfare: The Politics of Appeasement Behind the 10 per cent Reservation’, The Wire, retrieved from

PTI (2019), ‘Cabinet approves 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections in general category’, Financial Express, retrieved from

Roychowdhury, A. (2019), ‘Why caste, not class, has determined quotas in India’, The Indian Express, retrieved from

Navneet Sharma, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Teacher Education, School of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala. He can be contacted at navneet Anamica is presently persuing Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Delhi.

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