Reservations sans development
Leaders of different communities had so much confidence in the fairness of the country, when it won freedom, that none of them wanted reservations. The Muslim leaders rejected the then Home Minister Sardar Patel's offer of a 15 percent quota in government jobs and education institutions. Their argument was that reservations fostered a parochial thinking. The country had paid an enormous price in the shape of partition for the communal electorate introduced by the British.
Law Minister B.R. Ambedkar, himself a Dalit, said that his community did not want to walk with the help of crutches all their lives. After a lot of pressure, Ambedkar was persuaded to accept reservations for the scheduled castes and tribes for 10 years. Little did he know then that reservations would become a permanent feature because of the vote bank it provided.
It is unfortunate that the caste system, even after hundreds of years, remains an integral part of Hindu society. The Dalit (untouchables) are still at the lowest rung of the ladder. This is an open secret that rural areas have separate habitations for the Dalits, at a distance from where the upper castes lived. A debate has started in India on whether reservations needed a relook, not on the discrimination which is still practiced against the Dalits openly and unashamedly.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's suggestion has jolted the status quo so much that the BJP has distanced itself from the proposal of another look at reservations. The vested interests continue to be decisive. Many Dalits have embraced Islam to escape discrimination. But some have found, to their horror, that the tag of discrimination stays with them even in the casteless Islam, once classification is acquired.
True, many pronouncements, some by the law courts, have pointed out that the "creamy layer" should at least be barred from reservations. But they are the most vocal and most influential. This explains why the RSS chief remains a lonely figure in the entire Sangh parivar.
His disappointment must have increased after Rajasthan, a BJP-run state, has given quota to the poor in the upper castes. This humanistic gesture reads well but it is against what the constitution makers had in mind. They gave reservations only to the Dalits because the Hindu society, for centuries, had denied them the basic dues. It was a sort of repentance translated into concessions.
There were poor among the upper castes even at that time. But both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were able to persuade the Constituent Assembly that the upper caste must do the penance for the excesses committed. The state is violating the Supreme Court's directive that reservations should not exceed the limit of 50 percent. Unfortunately, this malady is spreading.
It is comical to see today that the Patels, a well-off business community, demanding reservations. The government in Gujarat, again run by the BJP, is dealing severely with the maverick leader Hardik Patel who is agitating for reservations for an upper caste community like the Patels.
Other states are keenly watching whether both Rajasthan and Gujarat gets away with the quota because they have the same thing in mind. The Narendra Modi government should have taken the BJP-run state, particularly Rajasthan, to task because the entire federal structure faces the danger of a collapse. The Modi government has a strange kind of confidence that when the chips are down, all states, with a predominant Hindu majority population, will not go to the brink.
Probably, Modi will use the whip of discipline after the assembly election in Bihar. Any kind of action at this time, when the state is only a few weeks away from polling, can boomerang and harm the BJP's fortunes.
However, time has come when all political parties should sit together to ponder over reservations on the basis of caste and creed. A constitutional position for only 10 years has become permanent. All parties support the continuation whenever such a constitutional amendment comes before parliament.
A country which has the word 'secularism' in its preamble of the constitution, should break the shackles of caste. Secularism requires the demolition of caste barriers. The ruling BJP should initiate a legislation to lay down the criteria on the basis of economic status. A poor Brahmin is no less deserving than a Dalit. What about the Muslims? The Sachar Committee pointed out that their condition has been worse than that of the Dalits. With soft-Hindutva embracing the country, the future of minorities is becoming more and more questionable.
If there was a survey, it would underline the fact that unemployment among the Muslims is growing. Since they cannot afford good schools, they figure less in jobs through competitive examinations. They are not even a fraction of some 18 percent of population in the country. Their backwardness should be a matter of concern. Idle hands take to desperate methods.
What is more important than anything else is the need to foster social relations between Hindus and Muslims. The togetherness witnessed during Diwali or Eid is missing. Mixed localities have become fewer. I find Muslims taking less interest in national heroes who were inspirations to the country.
Take, for instance, the debate over the files of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. It unnecessarily became an emotional issue. For days, the entire nation was engrossed in discussing whether the files should be made public or not. The nation suddenly became oblivious to the basic issue of development. It must keep uppermost in its mind that one-third of Indians go to bed with just one meal in 24 hours.
The Modi government has ruled the country for more than one and a half years. Its promise to provide livelihood to all remains as distant as it was on the day the PM took oath to assume power. Except for the usual rhetoric, there is nothing on the ground to indicate that his promise of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas is near implementation. The nation is still waiting.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.