It is not clear what the Gujarat government thinks the 10% reservation in government jobs and education that it announced last week for economically weak candidates from the general castes will achieve. If it was done to quell the Hardik-Patel-led protest for OBC reservation for Patidars, it isn’t going to cut much ice given the proposal covers other caste groups such as Bramhins, Kshatriyas, Lohanas, etc—the criterion is that annual household income should be less than R6 lakh. And with 49% already reserved for SCs/STs and OBCs, the new provision violates the 50% ceiling on reservations put by the Supreme Court.
With Haryana already setting a precedent with reservation for Jats—who, like the Patidars in Gujarat, can hardly be considered economically-backward—Gujarat perhaps sees in this an easy route out of the political threat of angering a large and powerful community. However, the problem is not just the Gujarat government’s half-baked response to the agitation. The reason that drives clearly well-off castes like the Patidars and the Jats to seek reservation is a big concern as well. As per a PRICE’s ICE 360o survey for FY14, an OBC household headed by an illiterate person earned Rs 84,394 and this rose to Rs 325,713 when the OBC household was headed by a graduate—this means, while an upper caste household headed by an illiterate earned more than a similarly uneducated OBC household (generally seen as ‘evidence’ of discrimination), it earned a fourth less than an OBC household headed by someone who had studied for even a few years. The biggest factor for prosperity, therefore, is education. With quotas meaning that admission into a premium government institute get that much harder, the general castes perceive that either a reservation or a dismantling of it can only assure them prosperity. The problem is with the latter option being politically not feasible, the likes of Hardik Patel are increasingly getting convinced that the former is the only way.