The Bihar election is over, the BJP has lost. Almost miraculously, the resignations have stopped and discussions about India the Intolerant have gone into reverse. Was it really all about the election? In a perceptive article “Perceptions Matter: It’s no coincidence that the narrative of rising intolerance has been peaking around elections”, (The Times of India, October 28, 2015), Baijayant Panda, MP from Orissa, observed that there seemed to be an upsurge in ‘issues before the electorate’ prior to recent state elections. As he states, “Just as in the earlier phase of reported church attacks bunched around the Delhi state election, so too now the crucial Bihar election is undoubtedly a catalyst. The bigger question is, for whom? For no one side or party has a monopoly on such tactics.”
Let us hope that the BJP is a bit more informed, a bit more humble, a bit less arrogant, and suffering from considerably less hubris the next time (April 2016) there are state elections. Given that it is a no-brainer that the political opposition to Modi, led by the down-but-not-out Congress party, will always be exaggerated and “peak” during election time (how many awardees left to return awards, or will there be some other “mechanism” for the glitterati-liberatti to vent their anger and frustration?). What I cannot understand is that given all that, how did politically-savvy Modi fall into the well-laid traps of “intolerance”? In particular, on all human, ethical, and moral concerns, Modi and the BJP should have been the first to condemn the killings of writers, the killers of Mohammed Akhlaq, or any other incidents of intolerance. Why did they wait so long? Was it hubris? We will never know. But Elections 2016 would be a time to find out, about both the proclivity of some to create trouble for the BJP, and the reaction, and reaction time, of the BJP.
There is one Bihar 2015 incident for which the BJP has been unfairly criticised, i.e., the issue of reservations. Indeed, it is the maha gathbandhan (grand alliance), in the form of Lalu Prasad Yadav, that exploited the caste issue; objectively speaking, it was Lalu who was the caste villain just as Amit Shah was the communal villain (“firecrackers in Pakistan”). But no awards are being returned because of caste villainy on the part of Lalu.
Let me explain. What did RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat say about reservations? In the main, he made three points. First, that the topic of reservations has been politicised from the start. Second, that there is a need to review the basis of the “ancient” reservation system that India inherited from its colonial forefathers and the Constitution. Third, that special “benefits” should be based on class, not caste. “We believe, form a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality, including some representatives from the society, they should decide which categories require reservation and for how long.” How is Bhagwat’s demand any different than the demand of the Constitution? And maybe he has read the Constitution more than Lalu has because according to the 95th Amendment, provisions of “Reservations” Article 334 will expire in January 2020 after having prevailed for 70 years.
Bhagwat did not mention caste anywhere—but all Lalu sees is caste. At a rally in Raghopur, Lalu replied to Bhagwat: “Ye ladaai hai backward aur forward ki. Maine Mohan Bhagwat ko keh diya hai ki moochh mein dum hai to aarakshan khatam karo. Yeh tiranga nahin, bhagwa jhanda fahrana chaahta hai.” (This is a battle between backward castes and forward castes. I have challenged Mohan Bhagwat—he should scrap reservation if he has the guts. He wants to hoist the saffron flag, not the Tricolour).
When I first read Bhagwat’s comment, I felt he indirectly made a very strong case for Muslims being the prime beneficiary of a revised policy on economic reservations. The only issue I have with Bhagwat is that he keeps talking of the need for (revised) reservations without realising that a quota system is detrimental to all and detrimental to “integral humanism”. In India, many learned scholars (especially on the Left) keep confusing reservations with affirmative action. The latter policy is one where positive steps are taken (e.g. income transfers, scholarships, etc) to help the integration of members formerly excluded from the mainstream. It does not matter whether the poor, or the discriminated against, are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Issai, SC, ST, Buddhist, Jain or Parsi. The poor are economically and “socially” disadvantaged and it is imperative that they be helped by the state, and helped considerably more than all others.
With a quota for education, and/or jobs, the “color of your skin” matters most, not your need, or your merit, or your competence. With affirmative action, economic disadvantage is paramount (i.e., “are you poor and in need of state support?”), and is explicitly based on a “caste no bar” criteria. The following analogy might help in understanding the difference between reservations and affirmative action. When economic reforms were introduced in 1991, there was a movement away from the inefficient (and prone to heavy corruption) industrial licensing and quota system (who can produce what and in how much quantity) to an incentive-based price system. Time now to move away from an inefficient, corrupt, quota-based system to an economic-need system. Why corrupt? Consider this—the OBCs were 31% of the population in 1931, 36% of the population in 1999, and 41% in 2004. In these five years, the OBC population grew at an annual rate of 4.4%.
Note that the Hutterites (who do not practice any birth control and have an average fertility rate of 9 children per woman) population growth rate has never exceeded 4% a year. It is biologically not possible, not even for Mandal-fecund OBCs. So, what happened? Non-OBCs, in order to obtain the irrational government mandated manna, simply changed their caste! More and more castes, economically deserving or not, joined the umbrella OBC category.
If you look at the data (“Reservations: Half-Pregnant Constitution, Half-Pregnant State”, goo.gl/1WZPQW), it turns out that the OBCs, the largest beneficiary of government job quotas (27% versus 23% for SC/STs) have incomes, education, etc, equal to that of the average Indian. Think about it—do you know of any system, anywhere, that wants to benefit the average person? The average, and the rich, are taxed to help the poor, the downtrodden, the needy. Yet, the self-proclaimed champions of the poor, the Congress and the Left, want to continue with the discredited, discriminatory, and damaging policy of caste-based reservations.
As pointed out in Reservations…, the Muslims are the biggest losers from our reservation policy, the policy that Bhagwat rightly wants reviewed. The average education attainment level of Muslims in 2011-12 (NSS data) was 8.6 years, compared to 8.4 years for SCs, 8.1 years for STs, and 10.6 years for Hindu OBCs. Yet, only 11% of OBC Muslims with more than 10th grade education held government jobs, versus 21% of SCs, 38% of STs, and 23% of OBC Hindus. While religion cannot be used as a criteria of education policy, caste is. But it appears that religion is the criteria used by the government to deny Muslims their rightful jobs in government. And “government” here is not Modi’s BJP (2011 data), but the liberal Congress governments of decades past—including the Hindu Congressman who is the hero of the OBCs, V. P. Singh of Mandal infamy.
The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, and contributing editor, The Financial Express