Given the widely-held belief that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on the need to review the reservation policy is what lost the BJP the Bihar elections in 2015, it is not surprising the RSS was quick to do damage control after the organisation’s publicity chief Mohan Vaidya made a similar-sounding statement at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Quoting BR Ambedkar, Vaidya said, “it is not good to have reservations forever … the need for it should be done away as soon as possible”. He added that providing reservations for groups other than SCs and STs, “seems a little like encouraging separatism”. Given the likelihood of this being misinterpreted and becoming a hot election issue, RSS joint secretary Dattatreya Hosabale was quick to say “the RSS has always held the view that reservation, as has been provided by the Constitution … all efforts should always be made to continue that reservation”.
While it is understandable that the BJP should be wary of anyone upsetting the electorate before the elections, it would do well to keep in mind the fact that Narendra Modi won the 2014 election on the basis of his developmental plank/credentials—it is, surely odd then, that the same party wants to continue to pander to caste groupings. Indeed, it is disturbing that, not only are caste-based reservations continuing 69 years after independence, the demands for them are getting more strident though, under the Moily formula, the UPA managed to dramatically increase the reservation for OBCs in higher education institutions like the IIMs, the IITs and medical colleges. Not only are powerful and well-off groups like the Jats and the Patidars raising demands for reservations, they are getting increasingly violent and, more important, state governments are playing along and trying their luck with the courts since, at times, the reservations cross the 49% limit prescribed by the Supreme Court. At some point, with the kind of political support, both tacit and explicit, it is possible the movement can degenerate into a larger conflict with not just the courts but also with upper-caste groups that resent the increasing inroads made by reservationists. The fact that, despite 69 years of reservations in schools/colleges, a very large proportion of the reservationists also need reservations in jobs also makes it clear the policy hasn’t led to them becoming qualified enough to be able to compete in open merit-based selection exercises.
Which is why, at some point, prime minister Modi needs to ponder over the consequences of pandering to the reservations monster and allowing it to grow unchecked instead of a policy shift towards, say, need-based scholarships based on economic criterion—indeed, at a time when Modi is looking at building world-class educational institutions, with a view to provide better education to all Indians, the policy of caste-based reservations appears antithetical. Which is why the RSS may also want to reconsider the consequences of reversing its well-known position on reservations.