Today, 10% quota for Economically weak in General category has been passed in LokSabha. Yesterday when. The famous Reservation system of our country now includes a new point for debate. The Cabinet yesterday approved a 10% quota in government jobs and higher educational institutions for Economically Weaker Sections among the general category. A constitutional amendment bill will be tabled in the parliament to bring this decision into effect. If the bill gets passed in Rajya Sabha also, the total reservation in the country would be 60%, exceeding the limit of 50% set by SC in the ‘Indra Sawhney & Others Vs. Union of India’ case.
The Apex court upheld Mandal Commission’s 27% quota for backward classes in the Indra Sawhney Case, as well as the principle that the combined scheduled-caste, scheduled-tribe, and backward-class beneficiaries should not exceed 50 percent of India’s population. One more significant provision of this judgment was that the Backward Classes of the Citizens of in Article 16(4) can be identified on the basis of caste and not only on the economic basis. Thus, it gave an impetus to make the reservations more caste and class-based rather than on financial lines.
The complex caste system contours of India have always posed a major challenge to our democracy. Constitution makers, Parliament and Judiciary- have been actively involved over the last 7 decades to find the optimal way to ensure equality and justice amongst all the sections of society. With inclusion of article 16(4), judgments on Champakam Dorairanjan and Indra Sawhney Case, we’ve seen efforts to ensure that various backward classes and castes get their share of opportunities in the sphere of jobs and education. Eventually, the caste based reservation system, though has it merits, has drawn flak from various groups over the years, fuelled resentment among the upper castes and has essentially rendered the original idea of promoting equality and justice among all moot to an extent.
In this context, reservation based on economic conditions of the people seems like a welcome change. However, bringing this move into force involves a few challenges. Firstly, SC has set a limit of 50% for reservations. Introducing a constitutional amendment bill in this regard is necessary but getting it passed by both the houses would not be an easy task. Secondly, if passed, this would be subject to review by the SC. History shows us how the judiciary has been an active participant in this grand discourse and getting the apex court’s stamp of approval on this is a must. Also, stiff resistance to this move by the opposition can be expected given that this decision comes just months before the 2019 elections.
It’s fair to say that BJP has ringed the bell for election campaign on 1st January itself, with PM Modi’s interview. They are succeeding in thwarting the lies of Congress on Rafale deal; Making progress in unraveling the Augusta Westland scam, And now this initiative to fulfill a long-standing demand of economic reservations among upper caste. Top BJP brass with this announcement, seeks to set the narrative on their own terms after suffering setbacks in the recent state elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
2014 elections were won mainly by the support of upper caste middle classes. However given its soft politics regarding the SC/ST act, its policies towards Dalits and Muslims, combined with the implementation of demonetization and GST, led to discontent among their main chunk of vote bank. Madhya Pradesh’s elections too showed the middle classes’ inclination away from BJP. A masterstroke was thus needed to regain the lost faith and take the front foot in the upcoming election euphoria. An announcement stating 10% reservation for Economically Backward Classes might just be this masterstroke.
Given the animosity among the general category regarding the reservation system’s preference to caste-based structure, BJP stands to gain well among this section by this move. It’s also a landmark decision with regard to reservation based on financial lines for this idea was only discussed in hush tones by the political parties for the fear of losing precious caste based vote banks, and never brought to the table. This is a liberal and progressive move that also satisfies the RSS ideologue of doing away with caste-based reservations as it does more harm than good. But most importantly, this will put the agendas various political parties and the idea of ‘mahagathbandhan’ in jeopardy.
The usual rhetoric of Congress and the other political players have been to vociferously oppose every move and action of BJP, no matter what it may be. So, this new reservation announcement comes as a double-edged sword. If they oppose, they stand to lose votes that they very recently gained. No party would want to invite the ire of a major portion of the socio-economic strata that stands to benefit from this initiative. Supporting an idea of the party in power, on the other hand, is an action rarely seen in the Indian political durbar.
Congress alliance with SP and BSP in UP and RJD in Bihar would face a major test of political wills. Congress is seeking to bank on the discontent of the upper castes while the others would secure the Dalit and Muslim votes in the two states. Tejasvi Yadav has already voiced his discontent putting Congress in a muddle. In UP too, Congress would be cautious in its next move. Another player of the grand alliance, Asaduddin Owaisi has also been critical of this announcement citing that ‘Constitution doesn’t permit reservations on economic grounds’. Hardik Patel, Patidar leader from Gujarat and a vocal critic of BJP too would be in a mix for his whole agenda has been reservation for Patels.
While this cabinet decision will undergo the test of parliament and judiciary, the coming days could be a game changer for the upcoming elections. BJP will seek to capitalize on their masterstroke while the Congress would seek to maneuver its way out of this pit while also continuing with their accusations on Rafale and strengthening the grand alliance.
Interesting times ahead!