What is their stand?
The 103rd Constitution Amendment, through which the Centre has introduced a 10% quota for the economically weaker sections among communities that do not enjoy any other form of reservation, has drawn near universal opposition from almost all major parties in Tamil Nadu. When it was introduced as the 124th Constitution (Amendment) Bill in Parliament, the AIADMK, the ruling party in the State, and considered to be friendly towards the BJP, spoke out against it in both Houses of Parliament. Its MPs walked out during the vote. Kanimozhi, DMK MP, moved a motion to refer the Bill to a select committee, but it was defeated. R.S. Bharathi, organising secretary of the DMK, has challenged the amendment in the Madras High Court. The Viduthulai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), an ally of the DMK, has moved the Supreme Court against it. D. Veerasekaran, an advocate who belongs to the Dravidar Kazhagam, has also approached the High Court.
Why is there such opposition?
Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in providing reservation in employment and education as a social justice measure. Its backward classes reservation history goes back to 1921. For historical and ideological reasons, therefore, the concept of social justice in the State is anchored firmly in the belief that reservation is a tool to ameliorate the conditions of sections of society that had been discriminated against in the past and that had suffered deprivation of employment and educational opportunities on account of their social backwardness. Here, reservation is seen not merely as an exception to the equality clause in the Constitution, but is considered an important and essential component of equality. In other words, equality acquires deeper meaning only if social injustices of the past are undone through preferential treatment for backward classes and other affirmative action programmes.
What are their principal objections?
The first and foremost objection to the 10% reservation for the economically poor in other classes is that it cannot be used as a poverty alleviation measure. The amendment to the Constitution to add an enabling provision for extending quotas on economic grounds is seen as a perversion of the idea of social justice. So far, only social and backwardness and educational backwardness were valid grounds for reservation. Many in Tamil Nadu believe economic disadvantage among sections of the advanced castes can be addressed through other measures such as job creation, provision of scholarships and financial concessions. However, carving out a quota among government jobs and educational opportunities cannot be a just solution. One principal reason is that a family’s economic condition is variable, whereas social status based on caste or community cannot change. Someone getting a new job, a promotion or an additional breadwinner in the family may result in a change in a person’s economic status. On the other hand, the social disability caused by being born in a particular caste cannot be easily undone.
Are there any other apprehensions?
Yes, there are fears that this will lead to shrinking of opportunities for those already enjoying reservation. A significant section of the population is already covered by the State’s total reservation of 69% for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the backward classes, the most backward classes and denotified communities.
The backward class quota has a sub-quota for backward class Muslims and the Scheduled Caste reservation has a sub-quota for Arundhatiyars, considered the worst-off among the Scheduled Caste. All of them are eligible to contest on merit under open competition too. The open quota may now come down by 10%. Further, there are fears the courts may insist on the 50% judicial cap on total reservation, and may order a cut in the caste-based quotas to accommodate the economic quota.