Quota stir, politics and the RSS
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, deserves a mild round of applause for calling for a relook at the reservations policy.
Following his suggestion, at least three Congress leaders have gathered the courage to say that a review should consider making economic status the basis of quotas.
Before last year’s general election, a senior Congress leader, Janardhan Dwivedi, had made a similar statement.
However, it is unlikely that their bosses in the party, the mother-and-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, will back them. It is because the Congress president had forced a reluctant Manmohan Singh to renew the inclusion of caste data in the census operations of 2011 after a gap of eight decades.
Her objective was no different from that of the Hindi belt leaders who use the bait of providing education and employment in government institutions to specific caste groups to build up their support bases.
It is this unabashed partisan purpose that has seemingly persuaded the RSS chief to seek an assessment of the quota system for those sections which “require the reservation and for how long”.
However, the timing of Bhagwat’s suggestion was disadvantageous for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It enabled the party’s opponents in the forthcoming Bihar elections to accuse the BJP of an upper caste bias which seeks to block the upward mobility of the lower castes by bringing the quota system to an end.
The BJP-led Rajasthan government’s decision to allow quotas to the economically weaker sections of the “forward” castes has also provided grist for the party’s opponents. A similar initiative has also been taken in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Notwithstanding these steps, the BJP is trying to distance itself from its mentor’s counsel. The RSS, too, is now hemming and hawing about the issue because it has belatedly realised that it had wandered into an area where angels fear to tread.
It will be a mistake, however, to believe that Bhagwat’s observations have anything to do with the visions of Jawaharlal Nehru, who wanted the caste system to wither away.
Instead, the RSS chief’s concerns cannot be unrelated to the angst of the Patel community in Gujarat. The community has been disheartened by the lack of access to education and employment opportunities. Many in the community feel that certain groups that flaunt their reservation rights even if they may be less qualified than those who are outside the ambit of the quota system.
Hence, the demand of the gun-toting and sword-wielding young leader of the well-off Patels or Patidars called Hardik Patel, that his community be included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.
Considering that he has called for either inclusion in the quota system, or for dispensing with the reservations altogether, there is little doubt that he has struck a chord with the upper castes, who have always been on the reservations. However, Hardik has also struck a chord with those who believe that this form of affirmative action has fostered vested interests who deliberately ignore the original idea of the quotas being offered for a limited period and that, too, for only the two most deprived groups - the Dalits and Adivasis.
Instead, the quotas have been extended to communities like the politically influential <g data-gr-id="62">Yadavs</g> even if they still experience some of the social stigmas because of their “backwardness”.
What is more, the Supreme Court’s directive about denying what is called the “creamy layers” or those who have benefitted from the reservations, any further access to quotas have been studiously circumvented by successive governments of various hues.
However, as is evident from the suggestions that the quota system be reoriented towards the poorer sections of all <g data-gr-id="59">castes</g>, the present virtual travesty of the original intent of the reservations is becoming increasingly obvious.
Yet, the political class is too focussed on making immediate gains by playing the caste card to see how the unavoidable fallout of the denial of opportunity to the meritorious can breed social tension, as the agitation of the Patels show.
At present, only Narendra Modi has made an attempt to turn the spotlight on development even if his party, and especially its allies, are not averse to playing the caste game in Bihar.
Otherwise, all the other parties, including the supposedly progressive Left, have made no attempt to mobilise public opinion against quotas. Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party is too busy making space for itself in politics to spend much time on a contentious subject.
The murmurs in the Congress about a new approach show that the ingrained sycophancy of its members towards the Nehru-Gandhi family hasn’t yet made the party totally brain dead. But, unfortunately, neither Sonia nor Rahul has the intellectual prowess to consider the matter with all its implications and chart a new course.
The Bihar elections are important in this context because there will be a direct contest between a pro-development and a pro-casteist outlook. Last year, the development model had received a thumbs-up signal from the voters. The results on November 8 will show their present mindset. IANS
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal)