It is not clear whether prime minister Narendra Modi will give in to the pressure being mounted by Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan to remove National Green Tribunal chairman Justice AK Goel. If he doesn’t, he risks the Bihar elections since Paswan is a valuable ally there. Paswan says that, as a Supreme Court (SC) judge, Goel diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, though, as FE has pointed out, all that Goel did was put in some checks to ensure the Act was not used as an instrument of blackmail against non-SC/ST persons.
But, even if Modi doesn’t cave in, pressures for caste-based reservation are rising dramatically. The Jat reservation issue simmers in Haryana, the Gujjar one in Rajasthan, and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has called for an all-party meet on the Maratha demand for reservations that crippled Mumbai and even turned violent last week. Several commissions, from Kalelkar in 1955, have rejected the Maratha demand and, when the 2014 elections ensured the Congress-NCP government granted them a 16% reservation, this ran into trouble at the Bombay High Court.
And the SC is, right now, hearing a case on the legality of caste-based reservations in promotions. While that has been proscribed by various judgments such as the Indra Sawhney one, and many others have put various checks on this—in Nagaraj, the SC said efficiency must not be compromised, among others—few seem to see this demand as the ultimate proof that reservations are a complete failure.
Reservations in college, it would appear, aren’t enough to ensure jobs for those who avail of them. So, even jobs have reservations; and getting a job doesn’t make those coming in through quotas any smarter, so even their promotions have to be assured.
Apart from the demands by powerful caste groups that can’t be considered backward by most yardsticks, various caste groups within the rubric of SC/ST/OBC also want their own reservations. One reason could be, as a study by three World Bank economists suggests, that there is more inequality within caste groups than across caste groups; and there is little doubt the better off caste-groups tend to get the lion’s share of the benefits. As the study, quoted in Mint last week, shows, while Chamars in rural Bihar spent Rs 634.6 per month—the data is for 2011—this was just Rs 560.9 for Musahars and Rs 600.3 for all SCs in general. In the case of OBCs, while Shershabadis spent Rs 649, Koeris spent just Rs 575.1, and all OBC groups spent Rs 629.4. Much of this, though not all, is related to levels of education (see graphic); it is also related to the overall development of the state in which these caste groups are living.
So, apart from the pressures from caste groups who want to be classified as SC/ST/OBC, there is the pressure from groups within SC/ST/OBC who want to get a larger share—or a fair share—in the reservations pie. The BJP plan for sub-categorisation among OBCs, so that the most backward among them get reservations, is a response to these pressures, as also the need to distinguish the BJP from various caste-based parties like the BSP and the SP—the SP, for instance, is portrayed as only being concerned about the interests of the Yadavs among the OBCs.
Given that dominant SC/ST/OBC groups will see a reduction in their share of the pie—whether this is justified or not is another matter—once other groups get a larger share of the reservation pie, as the Hardik Patel agitation made clear, India is headed back towards some form of the Mandal days of bloody agitations.
Though it is true India’s founding fathers were not in favour of perpetual reservations, since scheming politicians pandered to this—the Mandal Commission report was not implemented for 10 years until VP Singh decided that he would use this to decimate Rajiv Gandhi—and ensured it grew into a monster, any party that now takes an openly anti-reservations stance is certain to lose the elections. What is, however, important is that the more responsible among them find a way to dampen the demand for further reservations. The BJP should have, for instance, supported the concept of a ‘creamy layer’ in SC/ST—this would have eliminated 13 million SC/ST households (goo.gl/YZj2n6) and allowed other castes within SC/ST to get more benefits. Similarly, BJP should push for stopping reservations after one generation—no one whose parents have availed of reservations should be allowed to get this.
Also, while there is a clamour for reservations in colleges because a better education ensures a higher salary, the much higher salaries the government offers stokes this demand even more. An IIM -A study for the 7th Pay Commission found that government nurses got paid 3.5 times their private sector peers while drivers and plumbers got two times more. So, apart from what it will do to the government’s salary bill, any move to fix this disparity will also lower the clamour for reservations.