EDITORIAL | 10% quota: it won’t fool anybody

It is an attempt to deceive people with the offer of something that will not work, and will mean nothing even if it is implemented. 

Highlights: 
The bill raises serious issues and questions about its timing, propriety, constitutionality, usefulness, implementation and consequences.
It may be the erosion of upper caste votes for the BJP, seen in last month’s assembly election results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, that prompted the government to go in for the sudden reservation strike.
It is, in fact, an admission by the government of its failure to create jobs.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown a habit of taking decisions unilaterally and without any data to back his claims and reasoning. He seems to believe that his word is good enough.

The Narendra Modi government’s sudden move to offer a 10% quota in jobs and education for economically weaker sections is a desperate political measure, with an eye on elections. The move is meant to appease the forward castes. Parliament has passed the enabling constitutional amendment bill. The bill raises serious issues and questions about its timing, propriety, constitutionality, usefulness, implementation and consequences. They have not been answered satisfactorily by the prime minister, members of his government or representatives of the BJP in Parliament or outside. It is an attempt to deceive people with the offer of something that will not work, and will mean nothing even if it is implemented. 

It may be the erosion of upper caste votes for the BJP, seen in last month’s assembly election results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, that prompted the government to go in for the sudden reservation strike. The propriety of making such an important move without any relevant data, preparation and discussion a few weeks before the election is seriously in doubt. If the government had any such plans in the past, it would not have waited for the last day of the winter session to introduce and pass the bill. A minister had only recently denied any such move in parliament. More importantly, it will take reservations above the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case. The Constitution envisages reservations for only socially and educationally backward sections that have historically suffered discrimination. Economic backwardness is no basis for reservations and the courts have made this clear many a time. Even a constitutional amendment may not pass judicial scrutiny in this respect. Amending Article 15, which disallows discrimination on any ground, for the narrow purpose of creating a job quota is wrong and dangerous. It has implications for the basic structure of the Constitution and democracy and might be struck down by the court. 

The government has sought to make reservations an employment guarantee scheme, which it is not meant to be. It is, in fact, an admission by the government of its failure to create jobs. The Modi government had come to power promising to create two crore jobs a year. It knows that its failure to create jobs has become an important electoral issue. It wants to deflect attention from that failure by bringing in this quota. At the practical level, it does not make sense. The upper castes are already entitled to 50% of jobs and admissions. The government is now taking 10% out of that 50% and giving it back to them. The criteria for eligibility are so broad and liberal that 95% of the population will be entitled to reservation. When the whole 50% in the General Category is there for them, why offer them 10% by reservation? Nobody in the 95% will have a greater chance of getting a job or admission because of the reservation. This shows how false and deceptive the quota promise is.

There is a danger, too. The decision has opened a Pandora’s box on quotas. Once the Constitution has been amended and the 50% ceiling breached, every caste group or other aggrieved groups can make their demands for reservations or demand enhancement of existing benefits. Caste groups like the Marathas, the Patels and the Jats have agitated for reservations in the recent past. State governments agreed to their demands, but courts have struck down such reservations. Now, backed by the amendment, state governments or even the Centre can fulfil those demands as per the ruling party’s political convenience. Already, the OBCs are demanding 54% reservations. This will be a dangerous slide for the country, ironically brought about by the very party that has always professed to stand by merit rather than quotas. Obviously, that principle doesn’t matter to the BJP when the going gets tough in elections. Or, is the constitutional amendment meant to be a poison pill to end all reservations, including for SC/STs, which is a long-standing aim of the Sangh Parivar? After all, if everybody is covered under some quota or the other, then the principle at the core of caste-based reservations — social justice for the socially disadvantaged — is dead.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown a habit of taking decisions unilaterally and without any data to back his claims and reasoning. He seems to believe that his word is good enough. We saw this on demonetisation, the Rafale deal, and now on this quota. But that’s Modi. Why did the Congress go along and pass this bill? In parliament, it allowed the government to bring in something as important as a constitutional amendment in a stealthy, hasty manner and helped it pass the same without serious consideration. But on television, its spokespersons and leaders repeatedly criticised Modi for this election gimmick. They said they were sure that the Supreme Court will strike down the amendment and therefore the party went along with it in Parliament. This is sheer hypocrisy and irresponsible behaviour, and shows that the party does not have the courage to stand up for its convictions nor the confidence that it can articulate its views to the people and convince them that it has a better alternative to offer. The capitulation of the Congress is as worrying as Modi’s chicanery, or maybe it is worse.

We should hope that the constitutional amendment, which has already been challenged in the Supreme Court, will be struck down by the court. But this episode in parliament should wake us all up to the fact that our parliamentary democracy is not strong enough to protect the interests of the people and prevent a fraud from being perpetrated on the nation. Parliament, which could not pass the women’s reservation bill in 10 years, passed this quota bill in two days. Talk of discrimination!

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EDITORIAL | 10% quota: it won’t fool anybody

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