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Reservation Policy a Potential Danger – Social Issue Essay, Article for Class 12, Graduation and Competitive Examination.

Essay on “Reservation Policy a Potential Danger”

The Fourth (constitution) Amendment Bill extended statutory reservation for another 10 years. The Law Minister while introducing the bill said that it was generally believed that a regimen of revolutions, once put in place, was impossible to roll back. Some time ago, the Rajasthan government smarting under its humiliating defeat in the recent elections, included the Jat community in the OBC list for reservations. Evidently, prior inaction on this front was identified as a key reason behind the Congress defeat. Shiela Dikshit’s government in Delhi followed suit, further fuelling the demand for a “correction in the historical anomaly” in other north Indian States. This is when few believe that Jats in north India, similar in economic, political, and social clout to the Reddy and Kammas in Andhra or the Marathas in Maharashtra, can be described as backward.

The plaintive cry by sociologist D.L. Seth, a member of the first National Commission for Backward Classes that “this was not what was meant”, raises disturbing questions about how our policy-making elite approaches serious questions of social engineering. As a strong votary of the Mandal Commission, he had vociferously argued against the arguments put forth by anti-reservationists expressing fears about a reservation regime leading to a loss of merit in the public services and educational institutions. He had also, and correctly, identified the restricted social base of our elite as a key cause of both national inefficiency and growing resentment in society, given the cornering of key institutions and positions by the dwija castes. His error, if one can call it that, incidentally shared by the entire spectrum of pro-reservationists, was in conflicting needed affirmative action with a system of quotas.

Mr. Seth today admits that “the entire exercise of OBC reservations has thus degenerated into including communities in the reservation pool to absurd levels. The fear that communities with political clout, numerical domination, and a vocal educated section like Jats in north India, Kapus in Andhra, Bhandaris in Goa, and Khandayats in Orissa – have a greater chance of entering the reservation pool has come true. “In Rajasthan, Rajputs, and Brahmins too are clamouring for inclusion in the OBC list.

Any regime for compensatory discrimination hinge’s crucially on the “understanding and construction” of the society in which it is practiced, i.e. the policy while being rooted in the reality of the present must push the social forces towards a vision of the desirable. No wonder, given the centrality that different OBC groups now enjoy in electoral politics, we are likely to witness as escalation of competitive populism to add newer groups to the quota list.

What is less easily understood is why the political class favours the quota route over other avenues of affirmative action. Unlike the current preoccupation with jobs and seats in educational institutions, the modern Indian policy of compensatory discrimination comprises a wide array of schemes, involving specially allocated expenditures (scholarships, grants, loans, legal aid) and special protection (against bondage). And yet despite shocking reports about the non-functioning of schemes for affirmative action, viz. hostels or skill training for deprived groups no political party or even community group has ever made them a major mobilisation issue.

Equally, though research conclusively proves that while reservations do provide for a substantial quantitative presence that would otherwise be lacking, benefits have been unequally cornered by the relatively better-off groups and within them better-placed individuals and families. Worse, while every commission set up to review the scheduled lists has recommended delisting, the Parliament and State assemblies have ended up adding to the list. Thus, even though the NCBC Act provides through Clause 11 for de-reservation, the fear remains that the reservation regime may become a runaway one.

We know today, unlike in the earlier decades, that the number likely to gain through the quota route in both jobs and education have been declining, not just relatively but absolutely. This is both because of reduced state expenditures in job creation (public sector) and education, but equally, because our courts have increasingly tended to apply restrictive criteria i.e., taking away specified posts, permitting reservation at the point of entry but not promotion, ruling against a carrying forward of unfilled quotas, and so on. Would not then a further addition to the pool of those seeking advancement through the quota route only escalate divisive competition amongst communities and groups marked by social and economic backwardness?

The above should not be read as a plea against policies of affirmative action or compensatory discrimination. We do realise that our citizens are constrained by unequal starting conditions which, at least partly, have to do with their membership of ascriptive groups experiencing historical discrimination. Equally the forces of the market cannot correct this distortion. Forcing presuming equality between unequal only strengthens inequity.

Nevertheless, an obsessive fascination with quotas, while serving proximate political interests, does little, beyond a point, to facilitate the acquisition of skills and assets needed to compete fairly in the general category. If anything, it builds up resentments amongst those left out reflected in either taking to the streets – a la the Mandal agitations a decade earlier, or in the building up of further barriers in the private industry in the south actively discriminates against candidates group which enjoy reservations. Worse, the extension of the quota system and entrenchment of the quota mentality, while bringing to the fore the issues of group rights and entitlements, work against the transition from equality between individuals. All concerned about block voting behaviour or vote banks need to turn their attention to this tendency.

More than competing the entry into quota lists, well-wishers of the communities may like to turn their attention towards setting up new educational and skill imparting institutions while improving the ones that exist. Most colleges in north India, and there are many set up by leaders of castes and communities today aspiring for reservation, are in a shambles. Ajit Singh or Sahib Singh Verma might do worse than turn their attention to these assets rather than rely on numbers for mobilisation. The same goes for the leaders of the Yadavs, Kurmis of Gujars. If nothing else, it might change the terms of political discourse marked today by segmented mobilisation all over north India. The prognosis for such developments, however, appears utopian. As Mr. Seth writes in the article referred to earlier. “The process of including new communities with political clout is likely to receive a fillip in the changed political context.’


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