Re­con­sider the reser­va­tion sys­tem

Is it cor­rect to lay the foun­da­tion of a new so­cial im­bal­ance in the name of equal­ity?

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - COMMENT - Shashi Shekhar is ed­i­tor-in-chief, Hin­dus­tan The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

More than a mean­ing­ful de­bate over how much the poor up­per castes will be ben­e­fited with the pro­vi­sion of reser­va­tion, our dis­course ev­ery­where is fo­cused on how much the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment will ben­e­fit? Has the gov­ern­ment foiled the sharp at­tacks by the Op­po­si­tion with this sin­gle move? Such ques­tions are bound to arise in the elec­tion year.

A sig­nif­i­cant rea­son be­hind this dis­cus­sion is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had faced the ire of the up­per castes in the assem­bly elec­tions of Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan and Ch­hat­tis­garh. Vot­ers had started ex­press­ing their re­sent­ment even be­fore the polls. The elec­tion re­sults merely echoed it. Need­less to men­tion here that this sec­tion has al­ways been a re­li­able vote bank for the BJP.

Al­though the BJP had started so­cial en­gi­neer­ing much ear­lier, it al­ways main­tained its in­flu­ence over the ur­ban up­per castes. Dur­ing this time the lead­er­ship of the party be­came so en­grossed in en­hanc­ing the party’s vote base that it did not even re­alise that the old bonds are crack­ing. The Gu­jarat elec­tions last year made it very clear. But the assem­bly elec­tion re­sults in De­cem­ber were so dis­as­trous that the party co­or­di­na­tors felt it was not the time for contemplation but for im­me­di­ate ac­tion. The reser­va­tion wa­ger is an ef­fort to change that per­cep­tion.

That is why it is now be­ing asked if the up­per castes once again will try with all their might to bring Modi back to power. Dur­ing the de­bate over the reser­va­tion pro­posal, the rest­less­ness that was ap­par­ent among the ma­jor op­po­si­tion par­ties in Par­lia­ment con­firms it. In the last four and a half years, those who were seen rip­ping ev­ery de­ci­sion by the gov­ern­ment apart in both the Houses of Par­lia­ment were seen sup­port­ing this pro­posal, even if with­out en­thu­si­asm. They had only one thing to say which they re­peated time and again with great tenac­ity and in­ten­sity, namely, that the in­ten­tion be­hind this de­ci­sion was just to reap elec­toral ben­e­fits. They raised the ques­tion that if the gov­ern­ment was so con­cerned about the poor up­per castes then it should have taken this de­ci­sion four years ago. Had it done so, the rul­ing coali­tion would have col­lapsed well in time as a re­sult of the ob­jec­tions by the lead­ers who had doubts over this de­ci­sion. It’s cer­tain that the Op­po­si­tion will harp on this dur­ing the com­ing elec­toral cir­cus. Will this re­duce the im­pact of this po­lit­i­cal mis­sile de­ployed by Modi?

Please re­call that in Novem­ber, when Dharam Sansad was or­gan­ised in Ay­o­d­hya un­der the lead­er­ship of the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, it was asked loud and clear why the is­sue of Ram tem­ple was be­ing taken up after four years of the ten­ure of the rul­ing gov­ern­ment have passed? Had the rul­ing party and its al­lies been so se­ri­ous and con­cerned about this is­sue, they would have taken some mean­ing­ful ac­tion right in the be­gin­ning. This is­sue, emerged strongly dur­ing the tele­vi­sion de­bates, con­tin­ued to chase the BJP dur­ing the assem­bly elec­tions in five states. The re­sult is be­fore us. The saf­fron party had to lose three states. Will the reser­va­tion bet by Modi also meet the same fate?

Be­fore reach­ing any con­clu­sion, we should keep in mind that the Ram Jan­mab­hoomi is­sue is decades old. Re­li­gion can be sanatana (eter­nal) but the con­tro­ver­sies emerg­ing or cul­ti­vated from it can­not be stretched for long.

Once the del­i­cate thread of faith is snapped, it can’t be mended en­tirely, how­ever hard we may try. On the con­trary, the is­sue of reser­va­tion is di­rectly re­lated to our liveli­hood. For the last 70 years, a large sec- tion of the so­ci­ety has been liv­ing with the feel­ing of be­ing de­prived of the present sys­tem of reser­va­tion. If this feel­ing of hurt can be mit­i­gated a lit­tle by this de­ci­sion, then the gov­ern­ment and the rul­ing party can ben­e­fit a lit­tle. If the Op­po­si­tion wants to un­der­mine the BJP’S gains, then it will have to present its case be­fore peo­ple in­tensely and with gen­uine ar­gu­ments. Do they have pop­ulist ar­gu­ments for this is­sue?

Here is a cru­cial ques­tion. It has been al­most 70 years since reser­va­tion was im­ple­mented in the coun­try. In all these years, In­dia has gone through many phases of so­cial and eco­nomic changes. This is the time to re­con­sider this sys­tem (of reser­va­tion) too. Are we not cre­at­ing a new sec­tion of the de­prived along with up­lift­ing the op­pressed classes? If it is so, then how far is it ap­pro­pri­ate to lay the foun­da­tion of a new im­bal­ance in the so­ci­ety in the name of so­cial equal­ity?

The peo­ple who point out the flaws of the reser­va­tion sys­tem al­lege that the par­ties have al­ways kept their po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests in mind while im­ple­ment­ing it. But is­sues like ed­u­ca­tion, health and wel­fare of de­prived peo­ple have been side­lined. We have been a fail­ure in cre­at­ing an econ­omy which could make peo­ple eco­nom­i­cally self-de­pen­dent. Though some peo­ple did get gov­ern­ment jobs, the road to progress and wel­fare of all be­came in­creas­ingly nar­rower.

Had our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers reached a con­sen­sus on this is­sue dur­ing the elec­tion year, it would have been much bet­ter and fruit­ful. But they have cho­sen to con­tinue with their age-old ways.

Times have changed, when will our lead­ers change?

PARDEEP PAN­DIT/HT PHOTO

If the Op­po­si­tion wants to un­der­mine the BJP’S move, then it will have to present gen­uine ar­gu­ments be­fore the peo­ple of the coun­try

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