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 Straits Times - - WORLD - Nir­mala Gana­p­a­thy In­dia Bureau Chief In New Delhi gnir­[email protected]

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.

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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.

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