BJP's 10 percent reservation for upper castes unlikely to be a winner even among members of the community

  • Unemployment has reportedly reached a 27-month high in December, according to a CMIE report

  • 10% reservation means an effective drop of 20% of what 'general category' is presently entitled to

  • Decision will certainly create political ramifications with OBC-strong parties from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar opposing it

The BJP's sudden decision to provide reservation for the poor people among the forward castes in the backdrop of an impending Lok Sabha elections certainly sounds political, but what goes unnoticed is its fallacious nature and the potentially complicated aftermath it conceals.

In a country where unemployment has reportedly reached a 27-month high in December (according to the CMIE report), with around 50 crore people having no jobs, reserving 10 percent of jobs without any new addition doesn't mean anything. Instead, in a market without many new jobs and rising unemployment, taking away a sizable chunk of existing jobs will create anxiety and heartburn among the general category that this decision is purporting to please.

With 50 percent of the jobs, and also admission to educational institutions, already reserved for backward communities and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, what they have at hand now is only half the opportunities. Carving 10 percent out of that means an effective drop of 20 percent of what they presently are entitled to. It's a big number, particularly in a jobless market and highly privatised educational sector.

 BJPs 10 percent reservation for upper castes unlikely to be a winner even among members of the community

Representational image. PTI

The Union government's decision certainly has more fundamental ramifications, particularly with regard to the constitutional purpose of reservation. Although the idea of reservation was originally to affirmatively support the SC/STs, by the 1980s or rather 1990s, it was also extended to the OBCs, but without violating the constitutional position on the issue that allows for a special "provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes".

The reservation that exists in the country so far has abided by this, but when the general category of people, otherwise called forward castes, get a "quota" under this principle, it becomes contradictory. Constitutionally, reservation is meant for social and educational backwardness and not for poverty alleviation. Anyway, this issue has been discussed threadbare and will continued to be discussed without a logical end.

However, the hidden danger is that what appears to be beneficial to the general category is not beneficial to its members at all. Slashing a fifth of their existing opportunities, that had been already been restricted by half, may not be a good idea for them. Although the details of the bill proposing the new reservation are not yet publicly available, it's safe to conclude that it will include both jobs as well as admission to educational institutions.

In such a situation, take the example of Tamil Nadu, where 67 percent of seats to professional courses have already been reserved, but the state government raises the total number of seats to stick to the 50 percent cap of the Supreme Court. If one adds 10 percent to this, effectively, what's available to the general category of people will be only 23 percent.

As a proportion of their demography, this may not be drastically disadvantageous, but from the perspective of disenfranchisement, it's indeed a big deal. Although for political reasons, community leaders may appear happy because their communities are getting a quota that they had been asking for, at the individual-level it will dissatisfy a lot of people because it effectively reduces their limited opportunities. Therefore, one has to really wait and see if and how it will pay back politically.

As many experts had pointed out, the real problem of the economic growth story during the UPA had been that it was largely jobless or that job growth was not commensurate with the general wealth creation regardless of the numbers that people such as P Chidambaram would brandish. The present situation is even worse because unemployment has further risen. Therefore, what's the point in creating a quota that will take away the limited opportunities of the people that it's meant to help? The real help would have been creating more and more jobs and high quality educational opportunities with a little quota within.

Now, the vacuousness of this move in terms of results: According to NSSO data, the non-farm workforce in India accounts for only 24 crore and only a third of them can be considered as formal employment. Only a fraction of this number will account for government jobs where the new quota will work. It accounts for a very small number. Does it really make any difference particularly with nearly 70 percent of the people employed in farm-related and informal sectors?

The situation is the same with admission to educational/professional institutions. Except for a few premier institutions, higher education in India is highly privatised and no quota works there. How does this new allocation, that too for the general category that constantly whines about lost opportunities since the time of Mandal, work when there are no new opportunities in government institutions at all?

The unseen part is also about the hidden dangers of identifying beneficiaries. The new decision will open the floodgates to fudging and corruption when upper caste people will try to prove themselves to be poor, just like the much privileged OBCs tried to skim off the creamy layer.

In short, this decision will certainly create political ramifications with OBC-strong parties from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar opposing it and the BJP trying to either cement the support of the forward castes or attract more numbers from them. But in reality, it will just remain a ballyhoo. Both the OBCs and the upper castes, who already are under the impression that they had been victimised, will not be happy. The Congress, the CPM and the other parties wouldn’t care much because they know it’s only for political posturing and given a chance, they too would have done it. This is an empty bottle. There’s absolutely no fizz in it.

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 17:43:04 IST