Re­served Com­part­ment

Tehelka - - 20 -

WHEN THE Con­sti­tu­tion was be­ing writ­ten in the pe­riod be­tween In­de­pen­dence and Novem­ber 1949, it was clear to the en­light­ened minds that crafted it that the his­tor­i­cal wrongs done to Hin­duism’s so-called “Un­touch­ables” needed to be re­dressed. As such, a sys­tem of quo­tas for Sched­uled Castes and Sched­uled Tribes ( SCs and STs) found wide­spread ac­cep­tance.

As the years passed, dis­crep­an­cies and an­gu­lar­i­ties slipped in. From a short-term cor­rec­tive, Dalit reser­va­tions be­came self-per­pet­u­at­ing. To­day, it is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine caste be­ing re­placed by any other pa­ram­e­ter of de­pri­va­tion. Elec­toral pol­i­tics will sim­ply not al­low it. Nev­er­the­less, given the na­ture of In­dian so­ci­ety, there is an in­stinc­tive sym­pa­thy for Dalit reser­va­tions that, say, quo­tas for OBCs sim­ply lack.

The mat­ter of reser­va­tions in pro­mo­tions has been less straight­for­ward. While fast-track pro­mo­tions for Dal­its have been le­gal for close to 60 years, they have been chal­lenged by the courts sev­eral times. In the past 20 years, eas­ing pro­mo­tions for Dal­its has ne­ces­si­tated two con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, with a third now pro­posed un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion (117th Amend­ment) Bill.

The first of these amend­ments came in 1995. The then Congress gov­ern­ment was faced with a Supreme Court judg­ment that said the idea of reser­va­tion was con­fined to ini­tial ap­point­ment and not any sub­se­quent pro­mo­tion. The sec­ond amend­ment came in 2001, when the NDA gov­ern­ment ac­cepted the prin­ci­ple of reser­va­tions in pro­mo­tions, “with con­se­quen­tial se­nior­ity”.

The third amend­ment, mooted by the UPA gov­ern­ment, fol­lows an­other Supreme Court judg­ment, one that holds that ev­ery case of reser­va­tion in pro­mo­tion would need to be sup­ported by “com­pelling rea­sons” re­lated to back­ward­ness, poor rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the up­per ech­e­lons of the gov­ern­ment and over­all ef­fi­ciency of ad­min­is­tra­tion. The new Bill pro­poses SCs (and STs) be deemed back­ward ipso facto. As such, there will be no need to pro­vide the “com­pelling rea­sons” and ad­here to the court’s ver­dict.

What does this amount to? A man­ual labourer who hap­pens to be Dalit will be ac­corded the same “back­ward­ness” as an ad-

Quo­tas for Dal­its in pro­mo­tions look set to go the way of the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill

di­tional sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia who is seek­ing pro­mo­tion to the rank of sec­re­tary and whose fa­ther may also have been an IAS of­fi­cer of the rank of sec­re­tary.

Es­sen­tially, what is be­ing cre­ated is not a fast track but a par­al­lel track that will run through a can­di­date’s or gov­ern­ment ser­vant’s en­tire ca­reer.

While the amend­ment will have an all-In­dia im­pact, the bat­tle is be­ing fought out, re­ally, in Ut­tar Pradesh. The prin­ci­pal ben­e­fi­cia­ries of an un­fet­tered pro­mo­tion quota will, of course, be serv­ing bu­reau­crats. Dalit bu­reau­crats in Ut­tar Pradesh, es­pe­cially those of the Jatav sub-community that has pro­vided the BSP its in­tel­lec­tual bal­last since its Dalit Soshit Sa­maj Sang­harsh Samiti (DS4) avatar, are pa­tently in­ter­ested par­ties.

How­ever, it is not in­evitable that the 117th Amend­ment Bill will go through. The 1995 and 2001 amend­ments pre­ceded Assem­bly elec­tions in Ut­tar Pradesh. This time, the elec­tion is over. The BSP has been de­feated but nei­ther the BJP nor the Congress se­ri­ously be­lieves Mayawati’s Dalit vote can be weaned away. Congress MPs are al­ready talk­ing about this Bill be­come a “sec­ond Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill” — the pro­vi­sion for reser­va­tion of Lok Sabha seats for women be­ing ob­structed by OBC­cen­tric re­gional par­ties.

Even if the amend­ment does get par­lia­men­tary ap­proval, the num­ber of of­fi­cers who will be pro­moted will be small. By it­self, this will be too mi­nor a phe­nom­e­non to make life dif­fer­ent for Dal­its or to se­ri­ously block chances of ad­vance for non-Dalit as­pi­rants to the civil ser­vices.

Yet, with eco­nomic growth fall­ing and with the job mar­ket any­thing but buoy­ant, nar­ra­tives of vic­tim­hood and coun­ter­vic­tim­hood find the soil more fer­tile than at any time in the past decade. That is what gives Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav and the Sa­ma­jwadi Party the in­duce­ment to take on the quota for Dalit pro­mo­tions, tar­get even up­per caste youth with their mes­sage, and spread the word in Lucknow that “ju­nior se­nior ban jayega” ( ju­nior will be­come the se­nior).

There’s an old ex­pres­sion for this: déjà vu.

• Ag­grieved Pro-reser­va­tion ac­tivists protest­ing in New Delhi

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