Govt job quota for higher castes seen as political ploy by BJP
Ruling party says it will address inequality, but critics say beneficiaries are key voters
The introduction of affirmative action in government jobs for the upper caste in India is a political coup by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the opposition, said analysts.
They added that the move would help consolidate the upper caste vote in the general election later this year, even though it would likely have limited impact in uplifting poorer sections among them.
Both Houses of Parliament last week approved the Bill amending the Constitution to reserve 10 per cent of government jobs and seats in government education institutes for those in the upper castes who earn less than 800,000 rupees (S$15,294) annually and own less than 2 hectares of land.
It was an unprecedented move in a country where affirmative action has been limited to those in the lower castes.
Debate continues to rage on different aspects of the new legislation, including over the high cut-off figure in a country where the average annual income is around 137,000 rupees.
“First of all, reservation was introduced in order to address social inequality. It is specific to the Indian context because we have had social discrimination based on the caste system and social inequality for centuries. The history of poverty can’t be addressed through reservation, which was introduced for social inequality,” said Dr Kiran Desai from the Centre for Social Studies, an autonomous social science research institute in Gujarat.
“The real issue is unemployment. Government jobs are shrinking. Even with reservation, all the eligible people will not get employment. So they have to address unemployment through economic policy, which is a structural problem.”
In India, quotas or reservation for the lower castes are present in the bureaucracy, Parliament and state assemblies, among others.
Many belonging to the lower castes, who face social stigma, have risen in various fields through affirmative action programmes in higher education and government jobs. As much as 50 per cent of jobs in the government and education institutes are reserved.
This bred resentment among upper castes, including among traditional agricultural communities like the Jats and Patidars or Rajputs. Over the past few years, these groups have launched protests, some of them violent, to demand quotas as jobs dried up for their youth. There is also a perception, particularly in the rural and semi-rural parts of the country, that government jobs conferred social status.
The jobs quota, however, comes against the backdrop of a shrinking number of government jobs. In 2016, the government admitted in the Upper House that the number of such jobs had gone down even as job numbers went up in the private sector.
Many of those who have studied the affirmative action policy believe it actually has had limited success in poverty alleviation.
“It is precisely because the beneficiary groups are electorally powerful that they receive reservation benefits. This might, in many cases, also benefit disadvantaged individuals or groups. But that is a side effect of reservation policy in India rather than its main aim. The main aim is to win votes,” said Ashoka University assistant professor of political science and legal studies Vinay Sitapati.
Still the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has denied any political motive to its latest move and has criticised those, including the opposition, who have suggested this.
Despite the BJP’s protestations, however, the latest legislation is expected to bring political dividends for the party, which was jolted recently by election losses in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, three states regarded as its strongholds.
The law now requires the President’s assent to be implemented.
Despite the BJP’s protestations, however, the latest legislation is expected to bring political dividends for the party which was jolted recently by election losses in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, three states regarded as its strongholds.
Workers taking part in a demonstration against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as part of a nationwide general strike in New Delhi last week. India intends to reserve 10 per cent of government jobs for poorer members of the upper caste, causing resentment in other communities, who say it is unfair and freezes them out.