Modi’s wel­come Move on reser­va­tions

The Sunday Guardian - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

Be­ing teth­ered to the past is a sure-fire recipe for short­sighted policy. The pas­sage of more than seven decades since India be­came free on 15 Au­gust 1947 has re­sulted in nu­mer­ous changes in the so­cial struc­ture of the Hindu com­mu­nity, among which has been a grow­ing sep­a­ra­tion of caste from class. While in the past, the hi­er­ar­chi­cal order in the caste ma­trix was over­all sim­i­lar to that of the dif­fer­ent in­come and wealth classes, such a sit­u­a­tion can­not be said to pre­vail in the present. Thanks to the spread of ed­u­ca­tion as well as af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion mea­sures, sev­eral tens of mil­lions from what are listed as “back­ward” sec­tions have be­come bet­ter off even as sev­eral mil­lions within the so-called “for­ward” com­mu­ni­ties have gone down the wealth and in­come lad­der. In­deed, it is no longer un­com­mon to see “high caste” in­di­vid­u­als serv­ing as cooks and clean­ers in the house­holds of those spec­i­fied as com­ing from the “back­ward” sec­tions. Of course, while the master of the house has for his chil­dren the ad­van­tage of reser­va­tion of gov­ern­ment jobs, the sweeper in his house­hold may lack that ad­van­tage for her own chil­dren ow­ing to the ac­ci­dent of birth. It is true that the sys­tem of reser­va­tions was in­tended only for a pe­riod of a decade, but it is equally un­de­ni­able that the reser­va­tion sys­tem has con­tin­ued to the present and seems to have be­come a per­ma­nent fea­ture of gov­er­nance. Once an ad­van­tage has been con­ferred on a sub­stan­tial seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, it be­comes al­most im­pos­si­ble for a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment to re­move or even di­lute the same. And such has been the case with the quota sys­tem that forms the core of the reser­va­tion mech­a­nism for dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the cit­i­zenry. In­deed, the mech­a­nism has even had its ef­fect on the­ol­ogy. Caste should not ex­ist in the Chris­tian faith, but sev­eral from this ed­u­ca­tion­ally ad­vanced com­mu­nity seek to en­shrine the Hindu prac­tice of caste through birth within the Chris­tian faith through say­ing that there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween the two faiths in the mat­ter of caste. This when an im­por­tant rea­son why peo­ple have changed to the Chris­tian faith has been to es­cape the ten­ta­cles of the caste by birth sys­tem, which seeks to per­ma­nently place some at a dis­ad­van­tage vis-a-vis oth­ers on the wholly un­sci­en­tific ground of be­ing born to a dif­fer­ent set of par­ents. What­ever be the birth sta­tus of an in­di­vid­ual in terms of parent­age, a hu­man be­ing has the same po­ten­tial as any other hu­man be­ing. To say, as was claimed in Hitler’s Ger­many, that some hu­man be­ings are from birth bet­ter or worse than oth­ers is to talk non­sense. Across both sides of the At­lantic, set­tlers from India have far and away out­stripped in performance those of Euro­pean ex­trac­tion who com­pete with them. The performance of two-term US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama gave the lie to racists who be­lieve that African Amer­i­cans are some­how less ca­pa­ble of suc­cess than those of Euro­pean an­ces­try. The Obama Pres­i­dency or the Satya Nadella lead­er­ship of Mi­crosoft shows that colour of the skin makes no dif­fer­ence in hu­man po­ten­tial, just as the un­sci­en­tific method of de­ter­min­ing caste by birth is wholly in­ac­cu­rate as a guide to hu­man ex­cel­lence and fu­ture po­ten­tial.

It is for this rea­son, that all men are cre­ated equal, that Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s move to en­sure that 10% of jobs in gov­ern­ment be re­served for eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions of the so-called “for­ward” castes needs to be re­garded. That there are nu­mer­ous peo­ple liv­ing in stark poverty from the so-called “for­ward” castes is a demon­stra­ble fact. That the quota sys­tem that has pre­vailed since 1947 has ig­nored them is an­other re­al­ity. The move is, there­fore, wel­come, and it is hoped that ob­sta­cles to its im­ple­men­ta­tion will not be placed by state gov­ern­ments or via the judicial process. At the same time, it would be folly to ex­pand the quota sys­tem to the pri­vate sec­tor, as was sug­gested by some MPS in the Ra­jya Sabha. Such a step would have re­sulted in a sharp down­turn in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in India. The over­whelm­ing vote against such amend­ments in the Ra­jya Sabha would have in­cluded sev­eral from those sec­tions as have ben­e­fited from reser­va­tion in gov­ern­ment jobs and in the ed­u­ca­tional sy stem. Apart from two MPS, no other mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha at­tempted to get a res­o­lu­tion passed on pri­vate sec­tor reser­va­tion as would crip­ple in­dus­try and com­merce. Those Opposition par­ties that put aside con­sid­er­a­tions of po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences to sup­port through their votes this ini­tia­tive by the Modi gov­ern­ment are wel­come. There are is­sues on which all sides must come to­gether, and this was among them. The way in which the mea­sure got passed through both Lok Sabha and Ra­jya Saha shows that mea­sures clearly pro­mot­ing pub­lic in­ter­est could get looked at in a non-par­ti­san man­ner. A process of con­sul­ta­tion and con­cil­i­a­tion needs to be main­streamed in the functioning of Par­lia­ment so that there is less of the loss of time that is seen at present. The pas­sage of the en­act­ment seeking 10% reser­va­tion to those not cov­ered as yet by the quota sys­tem is a wel­come move, and the man­ner of pas­sage of the leg­is­la­tion gives hope that in the fu­ture, the na­tion’s politi­cians will put pub­lic in­ter­est first rather than nar­row parochial or po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

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