The Narendra Modi Government played a masterstroke by approving a 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections within the open category for higher education and government jobs. The reservation Bill sailed through in the Lok Sabha, and after a marathon debate in the Rajya Sabha, the Bill was cleared in the Upper House as well.
What does the additional 10% Reservation mean?
According to this Bill, people who have an annual income Rs. 8 lakh or lower, people who have less than five acres of agricultural land and people who have the residential property of less than 1000 square feet a to avail the reservation for Government jobs and admission in higher education institutions under this new quota. The similar initiative was undertaken by the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government in 1991 to introduce reservation by economic criteria, but the Supreme Court quashed the move.
While the Bill is awaiting the Presidential nod before it can be turned into a law, a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Bill, with claims that the Bill introduced and passed in both the Houses is unconstitutional as it is breaching the 50% ceiling for reservation set by the Supreme Court. According to the petitioners, the additional 10% reservation exceeds the existing 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court. The petitioners also claim that reservation on the economic grounds cannot be limited only within the General Category. The Modi Government needs to introduce and pass a Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Parliament and amend Article 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution.
Reaction to the Bill
This Bill has raised a mixed reaction within the political circles. While the Opposition claims that the Bill was introduced as a desperate political move keeping in mind the 2019 General Elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed the quick passing of the Bill in both the Houses as a ‘victory for social justice’. This has raised the debate within both, the political and social circles.
The BJP and its allies have termed this decision and easy passage of the Bill in both the Houses as a ‘masterstroke’. While most of the Opposition support the Bill and the additional reservation, they have raised concerns regarding the intention and timing of introducing the Bill, terming it politically motivated and accusing the BJD-led NDA Government, of indulging in appeasement politics just before the 2019 General Elections.
History of Reservation in India
To comprehend whether the introduction of this additional reservation quota is a politically motivated decision or a decision taken in the interest of the nation, we need to understand the dynamics of reservation in India. The history of reservation in India dates back to the start of Indian Civilisation when the caste system played an important role in shaping our society. For centuries, the upper class dominated the lower class in every walk of life, and have systematically deprived the lower-class of equal social and economic status.
During the British Raj, many Viceroys attempted to abolish the caste system but were forced to take a step back in their initiatives due to the fear of alienating the Hindu Rulers who were their allies.
When India gained Independence in 1947, the concept of the reservation was introduced by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and the same was incorporated within the Indian Constitution. The purpose of the reservation was giving opportunities to the lower classes who had been denied equality and subjected to discrimination for centuries under the caste system. While reservation was supposed to be a temporary move and abolished in the next 10-years, the concept of reservation is very much prevalent within our society and is one the biggest subject matter in the Indian Politics.
Current Status of Reservation in India
According to the current system of reservation, which differs from State to State, presently there is 15% reservation for Schedule Cast, 8% for the Scheduled Tribes, and 27% for the Other Backward Classes, leaving only 50% for the open category. Some states like Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have a reservation of 54% and 68% respective, and soon Maharashtra is set to join the list of reservation over 50% with the introduction of the Maratha Quota. With such high levels of reservation, where do the General Category go?
India Against Reservation
The consensus within the general category is that the system of reservation is unfair and is restricting them from equal educational and job opportunities. The system of the reservation will not be abolished anytime soon due to lack of political will and fear of political backlash from the SC/ST/OBC community who form a vital vote bank for most political parties.
Further, a large section of the general category blames the reservation system for brain-drain and lack of talent within the country. According to official statistics, almost 40% of scientist in NASA are Indian. Also, about 34% of Microsoft employees, 28% of IBM employees, 17% Intel employees and 13% of Xerox employees are Indians. It is believed that when talented individuals are shunned from higher education and job opportunities in India due to reservations and quotas, they are forced to look for opportunities in other countries.
Further, there are demands from various fronts in various states towards increasing reservation. For instance, the Pathidhars in Gujarat is demanding for the inclusion of their community as a backward class and entitle them for reservation. The Jats have held violent agitations in many parts of Northern India for their demand of including the Jats under the OBC category. Recently, the Maharashtra Government approved the reservation demand of the Maratha community. This constant increase in caste-based reservation quotas is pushing the open category towards the minority category.
Supporters of Reservation
While the supporters of reservation state that the damage was done throughout history cannot be undone in a matter of few years. Further, a large section of the lower classes, schedule caste, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes are still living in poverty and need these quotas to claw their way out of poverty by having access to education and government job opportunities.
Economic-based Reservation over Caste-based reservation
While there have been demands from various sections of the society to replace caste-based reservations with income-based or economic-based reservation, there has been a lack of political will towards taking the initiative as caste-based politics has been the basic nature of politics in India since Independence.
Political parties fear backlash and loss of vote back upon taking such an initiative and often budge towards pressure of demands for additional quotas instead of reducing or eliminating the system of reservation.
Though there has been a demand to replace the caste-based reservation system with an economic-based one, the present Modi Government has only added the woes of the general category by adding another layer of quota with the existing multi-level reservation system existing within the country.
The Bill is under litigation in the Supreme Court and is yet to receive the Presidential nod to turn it into a bill. Based upon the political history and prevailing system of caste-based politics in the country, it is highly likely that the move of introducing an additional 10% quota for the economically weaker section is aimed towards appeasing a large section of the vote bank rather than for the larger benefit of the society, considering the timing of the bill.