A misguided surrender

In a clear and misguided surrender to > Patidar agitators demanding reservations in jobs and education, the > Gujarat government has announced a 10 per cent quota for the economically backward among upper castes. Those with an annual family income of less than Rs.6 lakh will be eligible. This proposed quota is in addition to the existing 49 per cent reservations for the Other Backward Classes and SC/STs, and an ordinance is to be promulgated to this effect. The Patidars constitute a crucial vote base for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the quota signals the political failure of the various carrot-and-stick measures attempted by the State government to get on top of their long agitation. Last year, Rajasthan passed a Bill providing 14 per cent reservations to the economically backward, in a move to appease upper castes. Neither legislation is likely to pass judicial scrutiny. In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, the Supreme Court had limited the total quota to 50 per cent, a figure both States intend to exceed. Tamil Nadu is an exception as a constitutional amendment was passed in 1994 to allow the State to continue to set the limit for reservation at 69 per cent. A series of judgments have established that economic criteria alone cannot be taken as determinants of backwardness.

Notably, the demand for reservations by the largely prosperous Patidars has little to do with their present socio-economic status. Their agitation, like the one waged by Jats, has been directed more at the reducing socio-economic “gap” between them and the OBCs. Communities that identified themselves with the upper strata of society are increasingly seeking “backward” status for a variety of reasons. There is a shift in the aspirations for traditionally landed and business communities, as their young seek better education and white-collar jobs. Besides, following the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, OBC leaders have asserted themselves electorally and forged formidable political alliances. It is the change in the balance of socio-economic power that has lent popular support to agitations by the middle castes all over the country; new politicians on the block, such as Hardik Patel, who has resisted all attempts at being co-opted by the BJP, have emerged from this social churning. At one level, this adds some weight to the theory that the reservation policy has helped not only to uplift the socially underprivileged and the historically backward but also to reduce caste inequities. But by trying to buy peace on the street with an impulsive decision, the Gujarat government has exposed its weakness in the face of the Patidar agitation. If the policy of reservations must be revisited, then the way to do this is by calling for a review of the list of OBCs and restructuring the creamy layer of exclusion to benefit the really deserving.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 3:43:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/A-misguided-surrender/article14264541.ece

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