Modi's quota move will put pressure on private sector

Satish Deshpande.

Satish Deshpande, a Professor of Sociology in Delhi School of Economics, believes the latest move by the Narendra Modi government to provide 10% quota for economically backward people (who does not belong to the communities enjoying reservation) is just an election gimmick. It doesn’t matter what quota you get if there are no jobs, he says. An expert in caste and class inequalities, contemporary social theory, politics and history of the social sciences, Deshpande spoke to DH's Shemin Joy about the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill and its impact.

How do you see the 10% quota for economically weaker sections? Does it serve the purpose?

No, I think it is done largely with an eye on the Lok Sabha election. It is primarily a ploy for the elections. It is not really a policy act but just a statement of intent. There will be many difficulties before it becomes a policy. But right now, it is serving the purpose of the government. The (NDA) government sees itself in a relatively defensive position and is, therefore, announcing this also as a move that other parties will find difficult to oppose.

What effect this move will have on the quota for SC/ST and OBCs? How will they view it?

As long as there is no attempt to fiddle with the existing quota, there is no immediate need to mobilise on this. But it will be, I think, a matter of concern for them because their distinctiveness is being undermined and soon, I mean, along with the same line, we can have other kinds of moves happening.

Will this lead to the skewed representation of SC/STs and OBCs in government jobs?

No, I don’t think so. See, as I said, this is not a policy as yet. Before it is framed as a policy, the government will have to consider many detailed issues and that has not been done at all as yet. So, it has not been thought through at all. It is simply an announcement right now. Because they manoeuvred it in this way, they could get the amendment passed. But turning it into policy is a whole different thing and that will take many questions to be addressed.

A large question mark is on whether the Bill stands judicial scrutiny. The government argues that it will as the Parliament has passed a law and the 50% cap on the reservation is for caste-based quota. What do you think?

The issue of 50% cap is one. Also, the question of basic structure might come up. So an argument might be made, a plausible argument, that an amendment such as this is interfering with the basic structure of the Constitution. So it will have to be tried in the court. We can’t tell beforehand about the attitude of the court would be. There could be any number of more issues. That will happen once it will start to frame a policy. That is when they will become concrete about what are the income levels or cut off points of deciding eligibility. Although they are saying they will leave it to the states, these might also get challenged in various ways. Plus, they have made this applicable to unaided educational institutions and private institutions as well which is not currently the case for the existing reservation. So, that will also be challenged. If they try to frame policy, they will have more details to specify things. Once they specify things, they open the door for legal action.

So this is basically Narendra Modi’s election gimmick?

Yes. Just like the Jat reservation was what the UPA government did, just two weeks before their term was to expire. It also got stuck down.

What could have been a better way to extend affirmative actions to economically backward people?

You are already saying that the problem is economic. So the solution must be economic also. Reservation is a good solution where people are being excluded. There would otherwise be some way that would be found that the lower caste candidates are never found suitable. That is what could happen if you did not insist that there be quotas. So quotas work well where there is exclusion going on. But they are not the answers for economic disadvantage or deprivation. For that, you need to have economic schemes. So you offer scholarships and so on. So it is not logical.

What direction this quota debate will take?

In larger terms, the problem is there are no jobs. So quotas are going to be, in the sense, part of that larger debate and it doesn’t matter what quota you get if there are no jobs. If the government is not recruiting, then what is the point of your having a share of zero? A share of zero, however large that share is, will always be zero. So that is the question and that, this government has no answer for, in terms of job creation. The previous government also was responsible for the whole neo-liberal turn in policies. And neo-liberalism has no answer for this. So that is the larger issue. The reason why everybody prefers them (quotas) is they are proved to be very robust as a programme. It is a real benefit. Its impact is multi-generational. So it is a powerful programme and that is why everybody wants it for themselves. And they have forgotten the original rationale. So they say it doesn’t matter whatever rationale, just give it to us. Different kinds of groups are saying this. And, it is the job of the government to resist this rather than encourage it.

The argument by upper castes so far was that quota would have an impact on merit. How do you respond to such arguments?

So, why are they silent now? See, when they say meritorious, their merit is code for upper caste. That is why they are silent now. Right? Because the quota is for the upper caste essentially. Even though they say that caste is not mentioned, everybody knows who will dominate this. So that was their strategic argument in order to make it sound as though they are arguing about some principle. But they are completely exposed today because by that principle they should be protesting against this.

There is an argument that this could be the beginning of the end of caste-based quota regime. Do you think so?

It is possible but not necessarily because of this measure alone. There has been so much resentment and upper-caste backlash against this. What this might promote or what is not much thought about is the kind of return to the Madras Presidency communal GO (government order), which was there in the 1920s and 1930s where basically instead of reservations, you had a proportional distribution of state resources, at least education and jobs. So it is not reservation but distribution. It is not that some people are getting and some people are not getting the reservation. Every community gets whatever its share is. So it might go in that direction. That is one possibility. You know the whole point about the upper caste position is that they have to protect their larger proportionate share in privileges. They have the lion's share of desirable jobs. They had control of all of the industry. They control the private sector entirely. Even in the state sector, they control everything until very recently. Even now by far they are the most dominated. If the proportional distribution principle comes into play, they are going to lose because they are just 15% of the population. So in that sense, it is not going to be easy to end caste-based quotas.

In the debate in the Parliament, while passing the Bill, parties like Samajwadi Party and BSP demanded proportional representation in jobs. Do you think these arguments will gain momentum?

Yes, all that will start now. This is why I say this is not a well-thought out move. This is a desperate sudden thing because of setbacks in recent elections. If they have won those three states, they would not have done this. In a sense, we are trying hard to look for logic here. This is a desperate move to try and gain an advantage in the elections so that they have something to say.

The Quota Bill proposes reservation for economically weaker sections in the private sector. What is your view on quota in private sector?

I think the latest move will put pressure on the private sector and it is true that this question should have come up a long time ago. It is a myth that the private sector is really private. For example, the non-performing assets and the spectacular cases of people like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. A very large amount of public funds are behind the success of the private sector. Forget the defaulters, behind the regular private sector, is the state financial institutions. Most people think the private sector is built with private money. No, it is not. It is built on public money. On so many ways, they are dependent on the State and use state resources. The argument that there is no question of they being brought under these regulations, I don't agree with it at all. But that is independent of this latest move.

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