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Universal reservation – high road to social
By Syed Shahabuddin
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
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
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
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
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. q