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The Circle of Unreason

The Circle of Unreason

Author: Balbir K. Punj
Publication: Organiser
Date: November 12, 2006
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=156&page=9

Introduction: The path of populism of this mad variety at times can lead a nation to destruction. If there is a lesson for us in history we must turn to the French Revolution. The later research revealed how disastrous the revolution proved for the common people in France in whose name the uprising took place.

Pressure is being mounted to upturn the Supreme Court's recent verdict on a number of constitution amendments that the "creamy layer" in SC/STs be kept out of the promotion within their quotas in public employment. From all indications Government would cave in despite its own doubts, for the simple reason that the parties in the UPA do not want to be perceived as "anti-reservation" whatever that means.

So not to be found wanting or disloyal, every one would shout hallelujahs for the king, to hell with reason. The approaching season is one of elections and no politician wants to lose vote banks and go into oblivion. Just look at the demand the JD (U) is making: According to the report in the Economic Times, the JD (U) demanded that 'all provisions pertaining to reservations and the empowerment of the underprivileged be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so that they could not be tampered with in the future.'

The path of populism of this mad variety at times can lead a nation to destruction. If there is a lesson for us in history we must turn to the French Revolution. The later research revealed how disastrous the revolution proved for the common people in France in whose name the uprising took place. The tide of passion that swept through France at the time turned an execution instrument like the gillet into an icon.

Some of the best talent in the country were executed in the process. When the political class begins to grumble at the checks and balances like the Judiciary that democracy provides because these institutions refuse to endorse the running political passion, it sounds the tocsin. It seems the situation now on reservations has come to this critical level circumscribed by a circle of unreason.

On the issue of reservations, Parliament as well as many state legislatures have been consistently found to be vulnerable to the appeal of passion setting aside all reason. We have the huge political storm that V.P. Singh kicked up with the Mandal decision even as his government was facing the sunset, in a political scorched earth policy to deny rivals the benefit even when he could not avoid a shameful retreat. He was aware that he was opening a Pandora's Box and he did not care what happens to the nation so long as he could come out of the debris of his government with a feather of martyrdom.

The earlier Congress governments had been careful for almost two decades not to let the Mandal genie out. In Tamil Nadu both the DMK and its bitter rival AIADMK have upped the ante on reservations, taking the total past the 50 per cent ceiling set by the Supreme Court and then got the Centre to frame constitutional amendments to justify what is plainly unconstitutional.

Even after the Supreme Court nailed a creamy layer exclusion label on its Mandal decision, the Kerala Government in 1995 passed a legislation that claimed that "there are no socially advanced sections in any backward classes who have acquired the ability to compete with forward classes". That stand simply bypassed the "creamy layer" restriction in doling out reservations to all those influential sections who got accommodated in the generic term Backward Classes. The Kerala resolution was a telling demonstration of how passions could obfuscate reason.

Parliament itself has not been less vulnerable whenever the courts sought to drive in some reason into this issue. Last time it bent to accommodate the Constitution to the claims of passion was when the court ruled that Government cannot impose quotas on private educational institutions. There were a few dissenting voices when this assault on the constitutional checks was perpetrated. But like Cassandra's warning to the passion swept Trojans, these dissenting voices were ignored with the political class competing to be seen as more loyal than the king.

We could assume therefore that this time too the court would be circumvented through another constitution amendment. It is even possible that competition would put all legislations on reservations in the Ninth Schedule taking them beyond legal challenge to use this as an electoral weapon. Even the more reasonable among the political class would fear their rivals making use of non-conformity as an insult to a powerful and well politicised class and therefore would go along ignoring the consequences.

The reaction among the political class every time the judiciary sought to remind the country about the original purpose of reservations and limit legislative enactments within that purpose has been one of accusation that the judiciary is seeking to drive into executive property. In last week's judgment however the court has sought to clarify the issues unlike what its critics are accusing it of.

It is time the debate should focus not just on crème layer application or non-application but on the main purpose of reservation and whether specific steps in uplifting the underprivileged serve the purpose for which the Constitutional protection was given to this affirmative action. The court has observed that "if the extent of reservation goes beyond cut-off point then it results in reverse discrimination." The court wants "backwardness to be based on objective factors."

The question of "inadequacy of representation" has also to be judged on objective factors. If two backward castes who have been offered similar educational encouragement (like free books, free education, free tuition etc) show different results in terms of utilization of those benefits, should both be treated equally in regard to reservation? The danger of creating a vested interest in remaining backward is getting very real. In that case, the political class that claims to fight for such backward classes would be only acting against their interests.

The circle of unreason spikes the progress of the backward who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the reservations unless a certain degree of accountability in utilization of the benefits is imposed as a necessary discipline. The degree to which reservation leads to expansion of creamy layer within a community may be a sign of progress. Ultimately, this could lead to a situation where the political class becomes a parasite on the backward half of the country rather than its liberator. Reservation itself, says the court very objectively, is meant to find a "stable equilibrium between justice to the backwards, equity to the forwards and efficiency for the entire system".

(The writer can be contacted at bkpunj@gmail.com)

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