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Universal reservation – high road to social justice
By Syed Shahabuddin

The recent move by U.P. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh to divide the OBC quota in reservation for public employment under the Mandal dispensation between the relatively advanced OBC’s – the Yadavas, the Kurmis and the Koeris – and the Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) has raised a hornet’s nest but has served to confuse and confound his political adversaries – the SP, the BSP and the Congress.

The BJP essentially banks on the high castes. The Sangh Parivar’s mission is to build up the solidarity of the Hindus vis-à-vis the non-Hindus, but under the traditional leadership of the high castes, specially the Brahmins. They were opposed to the reservation for the OBC’s under the Mandal Report, called it divisive of the Hindu society and assumed the leadership of and gave an impetus to the Ram Janambhoomi Mandir Movement to defeat it. Today, Rajnath Singh, himself a Rajput, is speaking for the EBC’s! His move is politically motivated so that the OBC and the SC votes, which are largely cast to the SP and the BSP, are divided. It is not inspired by sudden conversion to the gospel of Social Justice or sympathy for the Shudras, who have emerged as contenders for political power propelled by the Green Revolution.

The fact, however, is that just as the high castes, a small minority, were lording it over the polity, the administration and the professions, in the name of the Hindu community in pre-Mandal era, so in the post-Mandal era, the three Forward OBC’s, a minority, have been feasting over the share reserved for the OBC’s as a whole, to the exclusion of the majority. Similarly, some relatively forward groups like Chamars (6%) in UP have been appropriating the benefit of reservation, to the exclusion of the majority of the SC’s. UP has no tribal population but similar phenomenon is noticeable in ST-concentration States. The wheels of Social Justice were bound to catch up with such inequities.

It is however, ironical that the wheels are now being pushed forward by those for whom the very concept of reservation is an anathema and who even now espouse the principle of merit.

But even if Rajnath Singh is allocating 15%, to the MBC’s out of 27%, and 6% to the Chamars, out of 15% for the SC’s, is that the end of the road?

No, because the Mandal dispensation, through characterized by flaws, contradictions and inconsistencies, opened the flood-gates but failed to carry the flow to its logical conclusions. For one thing, it is a negation of the principle of Social Justice if any social group or sub-group which passes the test of backwardness remains deprived of the benefit of reservation, only because, in the arena of competition, it loses to much stronger rivals. This was the reason why even in the pre-independence period the Achhuts (SC’s) and the Adivasis (ST’s) and the Muslims demanded and got their separate share. This was the reason why the Shudras (OBC’s) waged a long struggle for their legitimate share. Now it is their turn to concede the same rights to their less fortunate brethren within the restricted arena and face pressure for conceding their claims.

Under a democratic policy, gradually, all social groups or sub-groups constituting a plural society, which remain unrepresented in the power structure or nurse a feeling of deprivation, are bound to raise the banner of protest, as they acquire education and become conscious of their political strength, as they inevitably would.
So, the BJP, and for that matter, all national parties should see the writing on the wall and prepare themselves in advance, on the basis of principles, and not respond to the rising expectations and aspirations of the deprived groups, instead of tumbling from one demand to the next, in an adhoc manner.

One can foresee that even the solidarity of the high castes will give away, as their domain shrinks. And indeed, even if a high caste is over-represented, it includes many deprived families, which are educationally and economically and, therefore, socially as backward as the Shudras, the Achhuts, the Adivasis and even the Muslims. So they will eventually rebel against the elite of their own caste.

The only answer is Universalisation of Reservation. The pressure to move in that direction will mount. No political gimmick, no electoral tactics, no appeal for solidarity will neutralise the pressure or reverse the direction till the system provides due place, in the political, economic and social structure, for all identifiable and self-conscious groups.

If the transition is to be peaceful, the foundations of a rational system for distribution of power must be laid down. Political rearrangement of groups or their penetration or subversion will not help. Such political ploys may delay the dawn of Social Justice and postpone the day of reckoning but cannot reverse the historical process.

What should then be the outline of a rational system of Universal Reservation?

1. All distinct social groups should be identified nationally, coordinated across state boundaries to a common list, on the basis of their self-identity – caste, religion, race and language.

2. There should be a social census to give the population of each identifiable group and its share of political, economic and social power (at the panchayat, district, state and national levels) in terms of nationally accepted parameters, like representation in elected bodies and in public employment, share of cultivable land, educational level, presence in key professions etc.

3. A National Commission, assisted by State and District Commissions, should determine the relative status of each identified group in terms of the average for all the people at each level.

4. The National Commission should then decide the index of backwardness of each group at each level and announce their reservation quota as a multiple of population and index of backwardness.

5. The total reservation quota for all backward groups at any level should be the sum total of the group quotas and not arbitrarily fixed by the executive or the judiciary. The Supreme Court ruling of a maximum of 50% should be constitutionally nullified.

6. The balance should be available for the General Pool for merit-based open competition. The indexation exercise should be repeated every 10 years and hopefully, as backwardness goes down, the General Pool shall expand.

7.The National Commission should also work out a nationally applicable definition of Creamy Layer in terms of family income and assets and in each beneficiary group, candidates who belong to the families of the Creamy Layer should not be eligible for the quota available to that group.

8.The minimum qualification rule should be strictly followed and if any group fails to field adequate number of qualified candidates for the reserved quota, the unutilized quota should be assigned to the cognate social group among the other Savarnas, Shudras, Achhut, Adivasis and Minorities, as the case may be.

9.In public employment, the reservation quota should be worked out not on the basis of current vacancies but on the total cadre strength so that the social character of any service/cadre is changed within a foreseeable period. However, reservation should not apply to in-cadre promotion in the interest of social harmony nor should any individual benefit from reservation more than once in his life-time in education and in public employment, so that the impact of reservation permeates deeper and wider within the gap.

It may be added that at any level, micro-groups whose quota comes to less than 1% should not have a separate quota but they should be aggregated with other micro-groups of their choice for the purpose for forming a viable quota of at least 1%.

Logically it follows that if the social sub-groups within a religious minority, which form more than 1% of its population, claim a separate sub-quota, out of the minorities quota, they should be permitted to opt out.

In the meantime, the progressive forces must exert pressure on the system for extension of reservation to employment in the private sector (which is expanding at the cost of the public sector), to the armed forces, to the judiciary and, above all, to university education including technological and professional and, last but not the least, to the legislatures, for OBC’s and ‘Minorities, severally or jointly’.

It goes without saying that since education is the ultimate determinant of progress and development, central and state governments must allocate adequate resources to universalize free and compulsory education of uniform quality upto secondary level so that every social group/sub-group throws up enough talent for the full utilization of its quota in higher education and public employment.

This is the unfinished agenda of social reconciliation based on justice, the unfulfilled dream of Ambedkar, the high road for the achievement of equality and dignity by all deprived and backward sections of our people.
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