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‘Reservation’ Promises: ENOUGH OF ELECTION GIMMICK,by Dr. S. Saraswathi, 8 Feb, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 8 February 2012

‘Reservation’ Promises


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former, Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Elections and Reservation go hand in hand. Known by various terms such as “quota within the quota”, “reservation within reservation”, “sub-quota”, and “compartmental reservation”, the demands for subdivision of categories eligible for benefits under the country’s Reservation Policy are voiced in many States. Subdivisions are recognized in some States and the breakup of reserved seats has followed.


The process of such categorization is often forced by the groups that feel left behind   and is further actively advocated by interested political parties.  The ostensible object is to ensure that those sections within the socially and educationally backward classes that have come up ahead of others do not monopolise the quota and deprive those below.


The case for subdividing the backward classes is pressed more by the affected groups than outsiders. At the same time, the concept of “creamy layer” to eliminate the forward among the backward from the list of backward classes has supporters outside and in the marginalized groups within the backward classes.


Though the demands for a sub-division come at any time, pre-election period has become the most suitable season.  Parties vie with one another in extending promises without giving any thought whether they conform to the law of the land and whether the State government has the authority to fulfil these. Election promises and manifestoes are only a game of one-upmanship among the contenders.


In this context, the controversy over reservation for minorities raising the election fever in Uttar Pradesh is no surprise.  This State has suffered this illness many times since the emergence of “Mandal politics” in the 1990s and the political rise of the BWC.


The Union Government has quietly allocated 4.5 per cent out of the 27 per cent OBC Central quota to religious minorities identified as Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, and Christians in November 2011.  Muslims had been demanding 10 per cent exclusively for them.


Though this is short of Mandal Commission’s recommendation for backward minorities out of the 27 per cent of the OBC quota, the timing of the announcement when Assembly elections were not far away in a number of big States including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab cannot be ignored. 


Few people may be aware that the multilingual pre-independence Madras Presidency was the mother of an ingenious reservation policy to protect the legitimate interests  of “Non-Brahmin communities” and  also  “discovered” within 25 years of its operation,  the existence of the  Backward Classes among the “Non-Brahmin”  that did not benefit much from the policy. Its logical sequence in course of time is the emergence of a sub-group of the backward, the “Most Backward Classes”. 


While the backward classes succeeded in getting separate reservation on the eve of independence, a long and protracted struggle under the Vanniar caste led to the splitting up of the BC as BC and MBC in 1988 in Tamil Nadu soon after the stunning victory of the DMK in the elections defeating the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi. The question of reservation is closely linked with electoral politics ever since the framing of the policy.


In Uttar Pradesh that has been playing caste politics in its own style, social and educational backwardness is mixed up with religious and linguistic minorities. In every election in recent decades, the issue of Reservation Policy has figured in campaigns.


The manifesto of the Bahujan Samaj Party in July 1995 promised 10 per cent reservation for Muslims despite its alliance with the BJP at that time which was not in favour of reservation on religious basis. The BSP Chief Minister Mayawati was restrained from enhancing this to 15 per cent as she wanted.


In 2001, the State Cabinet in Uttar Pradesh decided to reserve a quota for some caste groups within the Backward Castes. This was seen as a strategy to gain the support of some castes and to break the solid backing of the Backward Classes to Samajwadi Party that was fast taking shape.  In the same context, a formula to club together Jats and Kurmis in the Most Backward category along with Mallahs and other backward castes among the BC was an election game exploiting caste politics.


The manifesto of the Congress in UP in 2004 and the party’s national manifesto contained a provision for sub-quota for Muslims.  It is this that had been repeated by senior Congress leader and country’s Law Minister a few days ago, which attracted the Election Commission’s disapproval. With some modifications, the Congress was offering 9 per cent reservation to backward Muslims within the 27 per cent quota for OBC in the State.  


Sadly, State politics is so entangled with the issue of quota within the quota that to avert the formation of Uttarakhand, the Congress offered reservation for the hill people in colleges and in State administration on regional basis – a model of sub-reservation.  But this was rejected by the Samajwadi Party in the 1990s which stuck to its demand for a separate Uttarakhand. 


The Sachar Committee appointed in 2005 to examine the status of Muslim minorities recommended inclusion of Muslims excluding the Ashraf under Scheduled Castes or under MBC.  The committee has stated that OBC Muslims should get adequate share of reserved quota of OBCs and that Muslim OBCs should be listed.                 .      


State politics is full of legal and direct battle on the question of reservation long enough to write several theses. Several States recognize sub-categories within the Backward Classes and even Scheduled Castes. The issue of sub-quota is bound to appear again and again since BC or MBC are not homogeneous groups by socio-economic standard.  We are still under an illusion that upward mobility in these groups take place as a group/caste and feel content with re-classification and sub-quota to correct imbalances.


What will happen is a process of continuous combination of backward groups soon after every classification and re-classification to eliminate the “forward”.  But the problem of creamy layer appropriating all space to the exclusion of others in a group will not vanish. It is not easy to remove a caste from the list of the OBC.  But, it seems easier to split the Backward Classes and create quota-within-the quota. Indeed, “Reservation” seems to have become a birth right for some castes.--- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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