10% quota for upper castes: Political googly by BJP can have major social implications

Could this forever alter the way quotas are granted? And while this will help the BJP get upper caste votes, how will it impact Dalit feelings?

 |  3-minute read |   10-01-2019
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The unexpected move by the central government to announce a 10 per cent quota for the economically weak in the general category (savarna) has flung up several interesting possibilities, both politically and socially.  

The idea for a quota to the savarna poor is not a new one. Parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have all spoken of it at various times. This is why most parties — including the ones traditionally championing ‘backward castes’ — have supported the government’s Bill in Parliament.

Many are saying that with this one stroke, PM Modi has managed to stump his opponents. Both his critics and admirers admit that with this one stroke, PM Modi has stumped his opponents. (Photo: PTI/file)

However, many political parties, such as the BSP, have raised questions on the ‘intention’ of the government behind proposing the Bill just a few months before the 2019 elections. The timing of this announcement, they say, clearly points to it being politically motivated.

Some political analysts find this initiative the BJP’s way to win back its disgruntled upper caste vote-bank. Upper caste anger, and the formation of political outfits like SAPAKS, is said to be among the major factors behind the BJP’s recent losses in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Among the upper castes, there have been two kinds of demands regarding reservation. While some want total abolition of any kind of quotas, a second group argues that reservation should be granted on economic basis.

While the government is clearly catering to the latter vote bank, it is unclear how they have arrived at the figure of 10 per cent reservation.  

If one were to analyse the political gains and losses of this initiative, the move may annoy a section of OBCs and Dalits.

Already, some prominent Dalit voices are saying that the step hurts the soul of the very idea of reservation as envisioned in the Constitution, where it was meant to empower discriminated communities. This criticism may percolate to a larger section among the Dalits. 

There has always been stringent opposition to caste-based reservation. There has always been stringent opposition to caste-based reservation. But no party ventured there. (Photo: PTI/file)

Even more significantly, the move can forever alter the way in which reservations are granted.

If the idea of 'economic backwardness' as a criterion to get state benefits is extended further, it could be a way to eliminate caste-based quotas altogether. While that may be beneficial in the long run for building a more equal society, today, it can have quite a major impact on disadvantaged communities.

Interestingly, noted Bahujan leader and thinker Kanshiram was critical of the entire notion of reservation, and considered it a crutch — not true empowerment.

Coming back to the government’s move, while it may be well-intentioned, it is certainly very hurried.

The criteria fixed by the government to decide economic backwardness have the potential to create a great deal of confusion. A more scientific way to go about this would have been that before announcing the quota, the government defined indicators of economic poverty for general castes based on research and published data.

The process should have started much earlier, with the appointment of a commission and then making its findings public. In this context, even the caste data of the 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census has not yet been released.

The move is also likely to run into procedural problems.

The Constitution does not permit more than 50 per cent reservation — if Parliament amends this provision, it could be challenged in court.

It may also open up new demands for extending the reservation granted to OBCs and SCs/STs, based on their population. Already, the SP wants the OBC quota to be taken up to 54 per cent from 27 per cent. Despite all these problems, political concerns will prevent other parties from opposing the move in earnest.

The consequences of the move will be very interesting — and instructive — to watch.

Also read: Reservation Bill: The poor among upper castes may never get quota benefit. Here’s why


Badri Narayan Badri Narayan

Author is director, GB Pant Social Science Institute, a constituent institute of Central University of Allahabad

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