Suddenly, the politicians have decided — including the ruling NDA — that the economically weak from the upper castes should get quotas. This is unheard of. Lok Sabha polls are coming but any Parliamentary discussion is not possible as the general elections are looming. But has this hasty decision been based on the Constitution and Supreme Court judgements?
If the NDA was serious about the merits of this decision, it should have acted earlier to ensure the decision to allow upper classes to get reservations – which until now was reserved only for what the Constitution ruled were 'socially and educationally backward classes'.
This constitutional decision was based on the debates in the early years after Independence, in which titans like Dr BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru participated. On the basis of the constitutional mandate, the formula for the backward classes came, and until now, it was from the initiative that the Constitution constituted 'socially and educationally backward classes.'
After the Mandal Commission award, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court examined this issue. The matter of the economic strength arose. Senior advocate Fali Nariman raised the issue of 'the creamy layer' several years ago. According to Nariman, even socially and educationally backward classes could be of relatively higher income, as the latter would become an upper crust unacceptable in law and constitutional mandate.
Fali Nariman’s argument was accepted by the Constitution bench – with the single exception of Justice Pandian, the only backward class judge.
The current discourse to accept the economically affluent strata as valid for getting reservations is untenable under the earlier constitutional considerations. It is also untenable in terms of several Supreme Court decisions.
All this is well known. So, instead of rushing to the electoral pulpit, a proper legal-constitutional decision should have been put forward. For Modi and others though, it was apparently a rush to bring in the upper strata, the 'economically upper crust' as indicated by Fali Nariman in the earlier Supreme Court judgment.
For the Opposition, it appears that the major incentive was to bring over the upper castes and challenge the NDA to hasten the new quota favouring both the ruling coalition as well as the Opposition – hasty as the decision is, it suits them both.
But what is surprising is the lack of constitutional and judicial action to examine and then empower the new NDA gambit.
It is true that the economic advantage would be only 10 per cent. But can such a measure remain stagnant for years to come? Today, it is 10 per cent – tomorrow, it may go up through the populist route to 20 per cent.
But is it constitutionally and judicially right to take such an unprecedented decision on such short notice based on scant evidence?
After all, it would still be possible to consult the judiciary and the Constitution to fine-tune this political gambit.
This raises another issue.
Are such preemptive steps the way to build a strong and sound policy, with little evidence about the social impact on upper caste economic policy? What does this mean for social justice? If there is reservation for the 10 per cent thus, doesn’t it indicate that the distinctions between the poor and economically higher strata impact on social divisions?
This hurried gambit in fact empowers 10 per cent of the economically affluent. Actually calculating this fraction will not be easy.
Furthermore, in later months, the question will arise – why should the quota remain at 10 per cent?
Why are quotas the only route?
Can’t there be incentives provided in the education sector? Can’t progressive measures be provided to enable upper and middle strata to be trained in the work area and other sectors? The quotas alone are not needed if adequate training and educational incentives are given.
Announcing a hasty decision is grossly inadequate.
Creating adequate measures and further incentives will do much more for the upper 10 per cent than a casual political gambit. Surely, our country can do much better than that. Or will the polity continue to tag tamely along with the political operators, without careful analysis of the hasty, ill-taught political measure — which is actually a political gambit?