Quota Pol­i­tics

Reser­va­tions in jobs and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions have be­come a po­lit­i­cal ploy in In­dia and may be­come a lethal weapon in the next elec­tions.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The reser­va­tion sys­tem has been put un­der scru­tiny in In­dia.

In het­ero­ge­neous so­ci­eties, where one class of peo­ple are less de­vel­oped so as to be un­able to com­pete on merit with the other for pub­lic ser­vice em­ploy­ment, it is an es­tab­lished prac­tice to re­serve for them a quota of seats both in gov­ern­ment jobs and higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. But its de­mer­its ex­ceed its ad­van­tages. It gen­er­ates com­pla­cency that numbs en­deav­our and the urge to ex­cel. Stu­dents end up with poor grades in class, lower grad­u­a­tion rates, ex­tremely high at­tri­tion rates from sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing ma­jors, sub­stan­tial self­seg­re­ga­tion on cam­pus, lower self­es­teem and so forth.

In Malaysia, the quota raj started un­der the no­tion that eth­nic Malays held rel­a­tively lit­tle eco­nomic power be­cause of a colo­nial legacy un­der which the coun­try’s more ur­ban­ized Chi­nese in­hab­i­tants tended to pros­per. In re­al­ity, how­ever, un­der the Bri­tish colo­nial rule, there was free ed­u­ca­tion for the ma­jor­ity Malays but the Chi­nese still com­pletely out­per­formed the Malays, both in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and in the econ­omy. Three decades of the quota sys­tem pro­duced more Malay univer­sity grad­u­ates and pro­fes­sion­als than the Chi­nese; but it did not pro­duce per­form­ers or a qual­ity work­force. As a re­sult, the Malaysian gov­ern­ment an­nounced in 2003 that ad­mis­sions to the uni­ver­si­ties would now be by aca­demic records, with com­put­ers deter­min­ing who gets in and who does not, with­out re­gard to eth­nic­ity.

In In­dia, reser­va­tions have been in force, for the Sched­uled Castes (SC) and Sched­uled Tribes (ST) since 1950, yet there has been no per­cep­ti­ble change in their over­all con­di­tions. How­ever, whether it is the SCs/STs or the OBCs (Other Back­ward Class), most fruits of the reser­va­tion have been eaten by what is called the creamy lay­ers within these groups.

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru, in his let­ter to the chief min­is­ters on 27 June, 1961, had em­pha­sized on the need for em­pow­er­ing back­ward groups by giv­ing them ac­cess to good and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion and not by re­serv­ing jobs based on caste and creed, say­ing, “If we go in for reser­va­tions on com­mu­nal and caste ba­sis, we swamp the bright and able peo­ple and re­main sec­ond-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this busi­ness of reser­va­tion has gone based on com­mu­nal con­sid­er­a­tions. It has amazed me to learn that even pro­mo­tions are based some­times on com­mu­nal and caste con­sid­er­a­tions. This way lies not only folly, but dis­as­ter. Let's help the back­ward groups by all means, but never at the cost of ef­fi­ciency.”

The quota sys­tem has flour­ished in In­dia be­cause of its use­ful­ness in gar­ner­ing votes. It has been in such favour that now some higher castes want to be “de­san­skri­tised.” “San­skri­ti­sa­tion”, a term es­poused by the great In­dian so­ci­ol­o­gist M N Srini­vas, de­noted the process by which castes con­sid­ered lower in the hi­er­ar­chy seek up­ward mo­bil­ity by em­u­lat­ing the rituals and prac­tices of the up­per or dom­i­nant castes. But now 'up­per' castes want to come ' lower' to be­come SCs, STs and OBCs. Gu­jars in Rajasthan de­mand reser­va­tions as part of the ST quota, and Jats in Haryana, Ra­jputs in Ut­tar Pradesh, Pa­tels in Gu­jarat, Ka­pus in Andhra Pradesh and Marathas in Ma­ha­rash­tra, want OBC priv­i­leges. Ear­lier this year in Haryana, Jat lead­ers led sev­eral demon­stra­tions and protests de­mand­ing reser­va­tions; the Chief Min­is­ter Manohar Lal Khat­tar had pre­vi­ously said the gov­ern­ment ac­cepted the de­mand of the Jats to give jobs to the next of kin of those who had lost their lives in the ag­i­ta­tion last year.

But it is in Bi­har that the quota sys­tem is be­ing put to full po­lit­i­cal use. Hence, af­ter be­com­ing JD (U) Pres­i­dent re­cently, Bi­har Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar has de­manded not only rais­ing the lim­its of reser­va­tions be­yond the 50 per­cent limit for the SC, ST and Other Back­ward Classes ( OBC) in ed­u­ca­tion and gov­ern­ment jobs, but also ex­tend­ing these pro­vi­sions to the pri­vate sec­tor jobs. It is not sur­pris­ing that Ni­tish Ku­mar, a prod­uct of OBC pol­i­tics, is mak­ing this de­mand. This is a de­mand which has been pe­ri­od­i­cally made by all the OBC lead­ers. Their point has been that the quan­tum of reser­va­tions should be de­pen­dent on the num­ber of the peo­ple to be ben­e­fited; that means that if the com­bined pop­u­la­tion of the SC, ST and OBC in the coun­try is 75 per­cent, then there should be 75 per­cent for them. In fact the OBC for them has noth­ing to do with back­ward “classes” but en­tirely with in­ter­me­di­ate “castes.”

Ni­tish Ku­mar is aware that the main Op­po­si­tion RJD wants to paint him as

“anti-reser­va­tion” be­cause of his de­ci­sion to team up with the BJP in Bi­har ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

But, this de­mand is the log­i­cal out­come of the re­cent rec­om­men­da­tion of Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Back­ward Classes (NCBC) that leg­is­la­tion be passed un­der which pri­vate en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing busi­nesses, hos­pi­tals, schools, trusts, etc. will have to re­serve 27 per cent of jobs for OBCs. It is im­por­tant to note that this rec­om­men­da­tion has not been op­posed by any po­lit­i­cal party that mat­ters in In­dia to­day. The Com­mu­nists have whole­heart­edly sup­ported it. The rul­ing BJP and the prin­ci­pal op­po­si­tion Congress party want a na­tional de­bate over the is­sue. But, the BJP sees a "valid ground" for reser­va­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor “only af­ter cre­at­ing a con­ducive at­mos­phere. It should not be im­posed."

How­ever, in a caste-rid­den state like Bi­har, quota is an ex­tremely po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive is­sue, and CM Ku­mar is aware of the fact. Though he is part of NDA, he has used his own brand of quota pol­i­tics to counter RJD dur­ing his more than a decade rule in Bi­har. It is to his credit that he brought the dif­fer­ent Ex­tremely Back­ward Castes (EBC) within the OBC un­der one po­lit­i­cal um­brella, Ati-Pichchara.

So far, he has en­sured ben­e­fits of quota pol­i­tics for dif­fer­ent EBCs by re­serv­ing seats for them in the pan­chayat elec­tions.

Ku­mar prefers to ac­com­mo­date women from ev­ery sec­tion and it has helped him cre­ate a “women vote bank” in the state. With his re­turn to the NDA camp, his bar­gain­ing power has de­creased a bit, but he con­tin­ues to be­lieve in the slo­gan: “growth with jus­tice (nayay ke sath vikas)”.

The chief min­is­ter faces crit­i­cism from his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent and for­mer CM Lalu Prasad Ya­dav who wants to make the 2019 LS bat­tle as RJD vs. BJP.

Aware of the chal­lenge ahead, Ni­tish Ku­mar in­tro­duced reser­va­tion in out­sourced con­trac­tual jobs pro­vided by the state gov­ern­ment. Bi­har is a state where caste plays a vi­tal role in the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions of the rul­ing and op­pos­ing par­ties. The RJD’s main aim was to por­tray Ni­tish Ku­mar as ‘anti–reser­va­tion,’ given the de­ci­sion made by him to team up with the BJP in Bi­har ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As a coun­ter­mea­sure there­fore, he brought the dif­fer­ent Ex­tremely Back­ward Castes (EBC) within the OBC. He has, to a cer­tain extent, proved that quota pol­i­tics is ben­e­fi­cial for dif­fer­ent EBCs by re­serv­ing seats for them in the pan­chayat elec­tions.

What div­i­dends his pol­icy pays in the gen­eral elec­tions next year, re­mains to be seen. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of SouthAsia.

Ni­tish Ku­mar, Chief Min­is­ter of Bi­har.

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