The case for reservation is clear and transparent, but for those with closed minds or a pre-decided agenda.Reservations are again the subject of a fierce debate in the country. Novelist Chetan Bhagat, Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh supremo Mohan Bhagwat have all questioned reservations in the last few months. Is this, as some say, an Ambedkar-Nehru insertion in the Constitution? Of course, not. Reservations were first instituted by the Maharaja of Mysore in the early twentieth century. And the term “Backward Classes” was formulated by the British.
Indian Constitution’s Article 15 (1) on “Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” makes an exception. Its section (4) states that “nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”. Article 15, it should be noted, is a Fundamental Right – it is binding on the State.
The Supreme Court amended this Article to put an upper income limit on the Other Backward Classes, the so-called “creamy layer”. The result of this is that the middle strata (not just affluent) of OBCs, including their children, are ineligible for reservations. In doing this, the honourable court treated economic status as a criterion of caste, although, as eminent sociologists point out, caste is not an economic category. Still, the Supreme Court decision is binding.
In 1990, the VP Singh government was forced to agree that reservations would only apply to the public sector, not the private sector. Now, with most of public sector undertakings sold off, despite the Congress’ genuflection to Nehruvian economic initiatives, there are fewer jobs open for reservation.
Besides these riders, there is also a limit of 50% on reservation – Scheduled Castes get 15% reservations, Scheduled Tribes 7.5%, and Other Backward Classes 27%. The courts have monitored reservations carefully. The Supreme Court, for instance, ruled that Jats did not qualify as OBCs in Haryana. In some states like Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, Gujjars are Scheduled Tribes, but in Rajasthan, Gujjars are OBCs. So differing social and educational parameters of OBCs are taken into account in different areas.
But for the Bhagats, Bhagwats and Patels, there are entrenched reservations about reservations. At least, Mohan Bhagwat, unlike the other two, must be aware of the Constitutional position. He must have made his sweeping rejection of reservations after careful consideration to further the political agenda of upper and middle caste Hindus. From his public speeches, it seems that Hardik Patel is not completely aware of the intricacies of the reservation issue. He wants OBC status for Patels, but his community was, in fact, aspiring to higher caste status till 1980. Chetan Bhagat, for his part, should distinguish novels from constitutional debates. Ignorance is not bliss.
The case for reservation is clear and transparent, but for those with closed minds or a pre-decided agenda. That is why, along with upper caste hubris, the reservation debate continues, but as myth not reality.