The whole quota business is going to get nonsensical from now on. After the Andhra Pradesh High Court last week threw out the 4.5 percent special minority quota (supposedly meant for Muslims) within the broader OBC (other backward classes) reservation, the Centre has vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court.
What we are staring at is two ridiculous possibilities: a further atomisation of quotas where both SC/ST and OBC quotas are further chopped up into sub-quotas for various sub-castes and religious minorities to benefit from. Or we could see the specific exclusion of castes from the quotas to ensure that the weakest sections of various castes benefit.
While we will have to wait and see what happens in the highest court, it is worth pointing out that this is the fourth time the Andhra High Court has struck down a minority quota for government jobs. It can’t be wrong four times in a row. It is thus worth examining the real underlying issue in this case.
From all accounts, almost no one is opposing the inclusion of Muslims in the OBC quota. Many states already have such inclusions, and the courts have not found them problematic. Reason: Muslims are there because of the castes they belong to, not their religion. The problem, therefore, relates to creating a Muslim sub-quota within the OBC quota.
This is why the Andhra High Court shot down two office memoranda (OMs) issued by the government of India in December 2011 which brought in this sub-quota. In a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by R Krishnaiah, the Andhra High Court held thus: “On the plain language of the OMs, it seems to us quite clear that the sub-quota has been created only on grounds of religion and nothing else. This is clearly impermissible in view of the specific language of Article 15(1) of the Constitution as well as Article 16(2) of the Constitution”.
However, on pure logic, it is difficult to oppose quotas on the basis of religion when caste is fine. The important issue to examine is this: why do Muslims need religion-based quotas when they are already part of the OBC quota?
One reason is, of course, political. Since Muslims are a large vote-bank, it makes sense for politicians to promise them sub-quotas. However, even without all this political manoeuvring, it seems that Muslims are not able to get their fair share of jobs despite the quotas. This is the reason why one needs a sub-quota.
The underlying logic of the sub-quota is the same as that for quotas. We need quotas for the poor or underprivileged because they can’t compete with the privileged. The sub-quota has the same justification: we need them because some sections of OBCs (eg, Muslims) cannot compete with other varieties of OBCs.
When quotas exist indefinitely, they become self-defeating since they are the antithesis of competence and merit. The only sensible way out is to enable people to compete – which requires better education for all, proper mentoring, and other societal inputs. The Right to Education Act, even though deficient in many ways, is at least trying to deal with this issue of improving educational competence. Effective universalisation of education is the key to less quotas in future. This is the end from which Muslim backwardness must be tackled, and not sub-quotas.
However, politics is moving in the opposite direction – towards more micro-quotas so as to appease every group. Once you accept that any inability to compete calls for further sub-quotas, then the logical extension of this argument is in having hundreds of sub-quotas for every caste or religious group that is significantly under-represented in jobs or education.
For example, there is a reservation for SC/ST. However, we know that it is the better off Dalits—Chamars, Malas, Mahars, Meenas, Dusads, Pasis and Dhobis—who have hogged the lion’s share of the reservations. If one were to accept the Muslim sub-quota idea as valid, one should also accept that the ultra-backward Dalit castes should have sub-quotas in the SC/ST categories.
In the run-up to the last Uttar Pradesh election, the Congress not only announced the Muslim sub-quota, but indicated that it may be planning to do the same with SC/ST quotas for so-called Maha-Dalits. This is what Nitish Kumar has done in Bihar, by excluding four better-off Dalit categories—Paswans, Pasis, Dhobis and Chamars—from the Maha Dalit category for special help and benefits.
While the Supreme Court has already said that Dalits in the “creamy layer” should be excluded from future reservations, the idea has been difficult to enforce, and Nitish Kumar’s efforts to exclude entire categories of Dalits may be even more problematic for it can be no one’s case that all Paswans or Pasis or Chamars are undeserving of reservation.
In fact, even as the Andhra High Court judgement is challenged in the Supreme Court, another PIL filed by a Dalit, OP Shukla, has sought the exclusion of many Dalit communities from reservations so that the rest can benefit. According to Shukla, who is from the ultra backward Balmiki community, a handful of SC/ST communities have cornered all the benefits from reservations – when there are 1,677 Dalit communities needing those benefits (Read Firstpost story on this here).
According to Shukla, "a select 5-10 castes/tribes among the target group have become financially so strong (as) to be compared with the higher castes of society. Therefore, further empowering them by way of giving them continued and further reservation will amount to unjust enrichment and will amount to violation of constitutional provisions", his PIL said.
The case is going to take ages to decide, since responses have been sought not only from the Centre, but all states.
Meanwhile, no political party is going to propose the exclusion of specific Dalit communities since it would mean loss of their votes. So they are more likely to suggest a further fragmentation of quotas with sub-quotas. This is where the Muslim quota proposal and the Shukla PIL could be leading us to.
Since Christians and Muslims are also claiming the right to reservations in the SC/ST quotas, we are going to see the atomisation of quotas where it will not be backwardness, but your caste or religious identity that gets you affirmative action.
Of course, this affirmative action will be meaningless, since reducing what is now, say, a chunky 27 percent reservation for OBCs put together could become a mere 1-2-3 percent for several categories of castes and religious groups.
Atomisation is going to lead us nowhere. It will defeat the purpose of reservation by creating a further scarcity value in sub-quotas.
The only sensible answer to the question of affirmative action is to include a socio-economic hurdle for anyone claiming he needs reservation. Maybe, the Supreme Court will give us a final roadmap away from identity-based reservations. (Read Pratap Bhanu Mehta's views on this here).
Or maybe it will just give further sanction to more sub-quotas. In which case, we can get ready for more political hot air and non-solutions being proffered as solutions.
Updated Date: Jun 04, 2012 15:07:43 IST