The Reservation Impasse

For about a month now, I have been following the quota controversy as closely as is humanely possible by a person residing in the U.S. My opinion over the issue, thereby, has undergone several cuts and chips over this period of time. Begining from an intense emotional backlash and ending in a much more rational interpretation of the situation, I think I am in a good enough position to comment over the issue now.

The spark

A few months back, the Justify Fullcoalition Government of India headed by the Congress party introduced 27% reservations for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in all the institutes of "national importance" (later extended to all institutes of higher education). This decision was promulgated by the HRD (Human Resource and Development) minister, Arjun Singh. Summing with the already existing 22.5% reservation for SC/ST, this decision took the total reserved seats to 49.5% (just .5% shy of the upper limit of 50% reservation set by the Supreme Court of India). This decision came just before the assembly elections which are supposed to be held in 5 states. Caste politics which has always been the most important vote garnering means in India seemed to be the reason behind this sudden decision. When enquired (and to some degree reprimanded) by the Election commission over an alleged breach of the model code of conduct (which prohibits parties from promulgating populist measures just before an election is due), Arjun Singh took refuge in the argument that the present decision was just a natural succession of the 93rd constitutional amendment passed in the winter of 2005 (which was unanimously passed in the Parliament). Although sound, the argument failed to explain the fact that the constitutional amendment was just an enabling act and unlike many other such acts which are languishing and begging for attention, what was the reason that this particular act had to be implemented at such a crucial time.

The Mandal Controversy

There is a very important reason behind the nationwide political support to the reservation issue. The Mandal Commission, constituted in 1980s to assess the composition of India's caste fiber among other factors, came up with a figure of 52% OBC. The commission in an effort for suggesting ways by which the oppressed majority of the Indian population could be brought in par with the upwardly mobile middle class supported the implementation of limited reservations. The commission however went on to suggest other steps like improving primary education, land reforms etc also. It was not until 1990 that the suggestions of the Mandal commission were given a thought. The then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh decided to incorporate 22.5% SC/ST (the most oppressed classes) reservations in higher institutes neglecting all the other suggestions owing to their low political visibility. By doing so, he opened the pandora's box. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which has traditionally ridden on the upper caste votes vehemently opposed the move then. They were made to bite the dust as caste emerged as the latest dividing and polarizing factor in Indian politics. The move created huge uproar among the general public and culminated in the self immolation of several youths. Following this, V.P.Singh resigned as P.M and was succeded by P.V.Narasimha Rao. The caste division of politics got wider and uglier as national politics came to be dictated by caste leaders like Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati and many more. Due to this BJP lost power in one of her stronghold states, Uttar Pradesh. Now that caste is very much the deciding factor in most of the constituencies across India and SC/ST+OBC votes range from a pessimistic estimate of 50% to an optimistic estimate of 80%, no political party dares to raise her head against the increase in reservations this time around.

The present agitations

The latest move angered the influential minority which comprises basically of the middle and the upper classes. Begining with strikes from the medical students of AIIMS in delhi, the protest as of today has engulfed the IMA (Indian Medical Association which has purview over other medical facilities across the country), the IITs along with many other engineering institutes, the chamber of commerce, the knowledge industry in general, the lawyers' association, trade unions, shops etc. Despite repeated pleas by the Govt. and the president (and once by the Supreme Court), the strike continues today, thus hampering critical services like medical etc. The quota move triggered the resignation of 2 of the 6 members of the knowledge commission (especially comprised by the Prime Minister to assess the education scenario of the country). The matter has now been taken up by the Supreme Court which has asked the central government about the rationale behind this decision in addition to asking the strikers to stop their protest.

My Views

Rationally speaking, I feel that in a highly heterogeneous society like India, reservations, if used judiciously, can serve as a strong means of achieving social equality. The fact that after 50 years, the need of reservation has only increased goes on to indicate that its implementation has been done from behind politically coloured glasses. The fact of the matter is that no political party (especially today's Congress) wants a rationally developed vote bank. The reason behind the widespread poverty and illiteracy in India is not any physical constraint but an underlying politican gain which stems from an impoverished majority. In such a scenario, political parties can garner votes over baser issues like caste and religion rather than more important topics like development and education. In this context, the present move is more the case of breaking the leg of a patient and providing him with walking sticks than striving to improve his condition and enabling him to stand on his feet. The whole issue stinks of political murkiness and I pretty much support the ensuing protests.

On the other hand, one has to keep in mind that SC/ST/OBC comprise atleast 50% (possibly much more) of the 1 billion Indians. These classes have traditionally been discriminated against and there is a genuine need to provide them with help and assistance. The help might come in the form of reservations but it should be based more on economic backwardness than the now abstract notion of caste backwardness. Moreover, any such move, which threatens to change the face of the country should be backed by more concrete numbers rather than the whims and fancies of one HRD minister.

Finally, over the apparently cold governmental response over the present strikes, I can only say that the middle class deserves such a treatment. The reason is the utter apathy which the middle class (sadly including me) displays over other issues of national importance (like the Coffin scam, Gujarat riots etc.). Now when it has suddenly woken up and started protesting, everything seems so selfish. How many of us really go and vote? If we are too busy to voice our opinions, the political parties would be more than happy to ignore our presence because as I already said, the oppurtunists called politicians thrive on an illiterate and divided India.

4 observations on “The Reservation Impasse
  1. Amit

    I completly disagree with what you wrote! Everyone wants the upliftment of poor except the vested interests, no denying that!

    Is poverty confined to certain castes? Why is there so much resistance to even consider the idea of giving benefit based on economic criteria if they are talking about poverty?

    If they really want to improve the social condition why dont they start strengthening the education system at the grass root level by making primary and secondary education compulsory for everyone? Why dont they open good schools at the village level? Did you even hear about any central school at the village level? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get children admitted in a central school? Why dont they start working at the most basic level? They dont do it because if they do it it will make people enlightened. They wouldn't continue to be part of their captive vote bank.

    What is the harm in making educational loan easy and accessible to the needy? After all credit to deposit ratio in govt controlled bank is at all time low and RBI keeps putting out circulars to make it higher!

    They say that bringing reservation will empower the weaker section of society? Tell me how? How is the cause and effect related in this case? It will only benifit a few individuals who get the benefit but not the weaker section of society.

    Do you really think that those whose basics are not right, if get admitted in a place like IIT will survive the rigors of the system? May be teh system will have to readjust for their cause because after all they will consitute 49.5% of the population in the class. Do you know what kind of effect it will bring on the educational institution and how many Damodar Maity it will create?

    I havenot yet started about the rationality of 49.5% as a number yet because there is no rational. No where in the world, in a democratic country a scheme of such far reaching importance is launched without proper statistical analysis, study about past experiments of similar kind, without a proper study about a relation between cause and effects it will have? India is almost becoming a pseudo democracy banana republic where politicians are not concerned any more to the havoc that their policies will create on the country. The only reason that they are doin all this without fear is because because people who have been educated had been indifferent to whatever is happening in the country, because they thought that it was a low stake situation for them to protest for something that doesn't affect them on the daily basis, because the effects are largely invisible to the people.

    Because you kept quit at an earlier time, does it mean that because of that reason you need to keep your mouth shut all the time? It has always been said that it is never too late to start doing something right. For whatever selfish reason the students have started the agitation, the effect that is coming out is right and I completly support every aspect of anti-quota campaign.

  2. Ankit

    Did you even read a single line?

    You basically said the same points I said but I dont know on what basis you chose to disagree.

    I mentioned the following points (as you):

    1. I said reservation should be based upon economical condition as you.
    2. I supported improving primary education by citing Mandal commission's findings like you.
    3. I said such a decision should be supported by stronger numbers like you.
    4. I said that politicians dont want an educated vote bank like you

    I never said that speaking up is wrong. I only said that there is a reason to govt. apathy.

    You basically repeated everything I said but yet disagreed. Did you just read the last two paras?

  3. Amit

    May be I over reacted 🙂 because you said:

    1. "I feel that in a highly heterogeneous society like India, reservations, if used judiciously, can serve as a strong means of achieving social equality." Equality on the basis of inequality, discrimation on the basis os casteism? What kind of equality would that be?

    2. Mandal Commission? The report of mandal commission was created on the basis of touring around a few villages in northern india (somewhere around 30) and they admitted themselves. They based their report on very small sample of data. Thesir recommendations were based on half baked logics. I dont give a shit about what Mandal said. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-1486250,curpg-1.cms

    3. you also said "Now when it has suddenly woken up and started protesting, everything seems so selfish."

    4. This point is probably the same in what you and I said.

    I DID NOT basically repeat the same thing if you read what I wrote! when I said I disagreed I meant the part where you wrote "my views" not the part where where you were providing the facts and figures. I think I should have made it clear. And yeah I didn't completly disagree, and that is the part where the first line in this comment comes in to play.


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