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Minority Reservations: Quotas Mock Constitution!

Author: Rajinder Puri
Publication: Boloji.com
Date: December 6, 2012
URL: http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=11731

There are several examples of the political elite’s collective insanity but the huge debate sparked by the proposed reservation for minorities takes the cake. The UPA government on the eve of the assembly elections announced a sub-quota for the minorities within the existing quota of reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Simultaneously the government also announced reservation in the proposed Lokpal Panel. Not surprisingly this aroused opposition protests and criticism of a patently opportunistic electoral gimmick. Politicians of all hues jumped into the fray.

Mr. Ajit Singh has demanded reservation for Jats in the central pool. Muslim leaders have criticized the step as being wholly inadequate and cosmetic offering no real benefit to their community. Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr. Laloo Yadav have criticized the quota for Muslims as being too meager. BJP leaders have criticized the proposal as being unconstitutional. Leader of Opposition Mrs. Sushma Swaraj claimed that the inclusion of religious minorities among the five groups given reservation in Lokpal bodies was unconstitutional as it amounted to quota on the grounds of religion debarred by the Constitution. And thereby hangs a tale.

Mrs. Swaraj is half-right and half-wrong. Granting reservation on the grounds of religion is indeed unconstitutional. So she is half-right. But that reservation cannot be given on that account makes her demand half-wrong. Mrs. Swaraj relies on Clause 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution which states: 'No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.'  But by this Article reservation on the basis of caste or gender is equally debarred. So how have backward castes got reservation?

Backward castes got reservation through too-clever-by-half distortion of the Constitution which the Supreme Court regretfully and tragically endorsed. Clause 4 of Article 16 of the Constitution states: 'Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.' So all that the government did was to make a list of criteria to determine class backwardness and include caste as one criterion. After that weight was given to each criterion listed. Caste was given undue weight that rendered backward castes virtually to become backward class.

How the Supreme Court endorsed this official chicanery is a mystery. If caste on principle is debarred from becoming a criterion for reservation it cannot be that the principle applies when it is the primary criterion but does not apply if it is a subsidiary criterion among other criteria. A principle is a principle come what may. If by this interpretation caste can be used to justify reservation so can religion and gender going by Clause 4, Article 16 of the Constitution. Therefore if the BJP objects to religion as a ground for reservation so must it object to caste as ground for reservation. That renders opposition to all the OBC quotas. But the BJP dare not do that for fear of alienating a big chunk of the Hindu vote.

It is quite likely that a revision petition filed in the Supreme Court against its earlier ruling on caste based reservation on the grounds listed above would lead to OBC quotas being struck down. Alternatively, if the earlier ruling is upheld reservation for minorities and women cannot be prevented. Article 16, Clause 2 unambiguously places caste, gender, religion and place of birth in the same footing. Surprisingly no politician seems willing to file such a petition before the Supreme Court. Not even the BSP which would gain huge political advantage from the move. Both Muslims and Forward Castes would support the BSP because they would welcome a level playing field with OBCs. The SC-ST reservation which is Miss Mayawati’s vote bank would remain untouched. Although a new hard look is very much overdue on SC-ST reservation which constitutionally was intended for only a decade. Six decades have passed with no improvement in anti-Dalit atrocities.

By not following the Constitution politicians have fragmented society into innumerable warring castes and communities. This has reduced the Indian nation  to a collection of warring primitive tribes. Affirmative action including reservation quotas on the basis of economic criteria would in the natural course allow judicious representation to genuinely backward classes regardless of caste or community. Surely confirming authenticity of genuine poverty is no more difficult than confirming authenticity of caste or community.

Instead of adopting a perfectly rational and feasible policy to render social justice politicians have created a grotesque system in which over 3000 recognized castes are marginalized by a handful of prominent so-called backward castes that hog all the reservation benefits. In the Dalit sector a similar situation exists. Innumerable small Dalit sub-castes are marginalized and denied reservation benefits that are monopolized by a couple of powerful Dalit castes. This is the reality of caste based reservation which no politician is prepared to confront. Reservation becomes meaningless when the vast majority of the poor are denied free and compulsory primary education even after six decades of freedom. The absurdity of categorization of backward castes is revealed by the oddity that the same caste can be forward in one state and backward in another. How, then, is caste a criterion of backwardness?

The many pronged assault on the Constitution has reached dangerous proportions. The collective responsibility of the ruling establishment, including politicians, judiciary and media, for destroying the letter and spirit of the Constitution is now threatening to destroy democracy itself. Is anybody worried?
 
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