An RSS dream takes shape. Gujarat ushers in upper caste quota
The BJP has taken the first step towards realising an old dream of the RSS: an end to the policy of reservations. The BJP government in Gujarat Friday announced 10% reservation for the "economically backward" in the general category, fulfilling a long-standing demand of the upper castes across India who feel the existing quota system gives the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs an unfair advantage.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had last year called for a review of the existing quota policy. But when it appeared that the statement was hurting the BJP's prospects in the Bihar polls, Bhagwat was forced to retract it and say he had been misrepresented. The BJP still lost the election, however.
But that setback does not seem to have deterred the Sangh. To the contrary, it has floated a trial balloon in the home state of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah: Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has declared that the new EBC quota would be over and above the 49% quota being given to the SCs, STs and OBCs.
Gujarat Government has decided to accord 10% Reservation for Economically Backward Class in General Category.— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) April 29, 2016
People from General Category having annual income limit of Rs 6 lakh will get 10% EBC Reservation in education institutions &Government jobs— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) April 29, 2016
Existing 49% Reservation for SC, ST & OBC will remain untouched. Gujarat Government is committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all.— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) April 29, 2016
This means Gujarat will give 59% of government jobs and higher education seats to reserved categories, which is a violation of the Supreme Court's cap of 50%. The BJP seems to have already factored this in, with its state chief Vijay Rupani declaring the party will fight for the new quota in the courts as well.
Significantly, Rupani and Patel took pains to mention that the move had the sanction of both Modi and Shah.
Patidars not impressed
The decision is likely to be notified on 1 May, Gujarat's foundation day. It ensures 10% quota in educational institutions and state jobs for those in the general category with annual income of up to Rs 6 lakh. The moves comes in the wake of the Patidar community's agitation for reservation under the OBC category.
If appeasing the Patidars was an objective of the Gujarat government, it hasn't quite succeeded. They have rejected the quota and reiterated their demand for OBC status. The reason? As OBCs, their share of the reservation pie will be 27% as against the 10% the new quota promises.
Opposition stays silent
Meanwhile, the Parliament, which is in session, received the news with uncharacteristic silence. No party or individual made statements for or against the move, not even legatees of the Mandal movement like Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, and BJP's Hukmdev Narayan Yadav. Modi too has been silent so far.
When asked about it, senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi told Catch his party welcomed quota for the poor among the upper castes as long as it did not tinker with the existing 49% for SCs, STs and OBCs. He said the Mandal Commission itself had made such a recommendation in favour of the upper caste poor.
Tyagi added that his party's government in Bihar had, in fact, constituted a commission which recommended similar benefits for upper caste poor last year. Asked why the recommendations were not being implemented, he said that will happen soon.
The Congress has taken the decision in quite a competitive spirit, with the party's Gujarat leaders announcing that they will raise the quota to 20% if they are voted to power.
The CPM called the move a political gimmick. Md Salim told Catch that while his party welcomed, in principle, the introduction of reservation on economic basis, Gujarat's move amounted to creating a quota in addition to the existing quotas. The BJP knows the decision won't stand legal scrutiny, Salim said, but when the Supreme Court strikes it down, the party will feign helplessness to the people.
A disastrous move?
RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha told Catch that it was his "personal opinion" that "this is a disastrous move". He said it stems from a failure to understand the idea of reservation, which is essentially a tool for ensuring representation of the downtrodden. Reservation, he added, was never meant to be a poverty-alleviation or a job-creation programme.
He said the move demonstrated a failure to understand the "structural fault-lines" of Hindu caste hierarchy and it was the "wrong medicine for a serious illness".
Given such response of the parties, it's hard to say what the resonance of the move will be among SCs, STs and OBCs, who are still fighting for respect and equality in the socio-economic sphere. They continue to be uneducated and unemployed in large numbers, and their social stigma and exploitation continues in the hinterland, not too far from the shiny illusions of our cities.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone
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