So the 10 percent reservation bill for those not covered elsewhere by other reservations is finally passed by both houses. How one wishes our parliamentarians show the same urgency and spirit whenever the parliament is in session instead of fighting like old women, walking out or behaving like goons in the well of the house right under the speaker’s nose. But let us not get fooled by this efficiency shown by both houses for this bill. The treasury benches were in a hurry since the session had only two days left while the opposition was stumped and damned either way. If they opposed the bill they feared being seen as anti-majority and if they supported it then they would have to live with the ignominy that the NDA government made suckers out of them. Given this situation the government knew that it will not have any problem in bringing forward a constitutional amendment in this regard to enhance the 50% quota limit.
What a Catch 22 situation to be in for the opposition with national polls just a few months away. So it should not come as a surprise that despite being against the bill, most voted in its favour. Given the character of our politicians, most in the opposition cried hoarse against the bill but the fear of losing votes ensured that they finally muttered the “AYE’. Without a doubt each member in the opposition would be hoping that the bill will not stand judicial scrutiny since the matter will certainly go to court. Therefore opposition, without exceptions, is banking on judiciary to stall or kill the bill.
Is the bill really a game changer as the ruling government would like one to believe? On the face of it perhaps it is but in reality it may not be so. It may be good for the common man to understand the main implications of the bill which are as below:
- The new 10% reservation will be based on economic criteria for the present general category.
- Fifty percent of the jobs in government sector and fifty percent of seats in educational institutions that were available to general public on merit will now be reduced to 40% as the extra 10% reservation too would be filled sans merit from within the general category.
- The new 10% reservation, based on announced economic criteria, would be available to more than 85% citizens who were not covered under reservations till now. Will it translate into too little for too many? In all probability it will.
First and foremost merit will be the biggest casualty because of extra 10% reservations. The government has declared that it is an important step to ensure justice for all sections of the Indian society. This is more political rhetoric than a reality. First a quota of 10 percent for more than 50 percent of population can hardly be termed as sufficient. The fact is that meritocracy has been dealt another blow to promote mediocrity. Given the experience with earlier 50% reservations for specific sections of the society on social and backwardness basis, this will mean further decline of standards in working of the government – an issue that is already very critical. A similar concern can be flagged for various institutions of higher learning on same logic.
Will this step by the government result in further divisions in the society particularly in sections where there were none so far? After scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, backward classes will this create another niche section in the society? Perhaps it will over a period of time from among those who become beneficiaries of the new reservation quota. If this happens it certainly does not bode well for the nation as a whole in the future since the aim has always been to move towards a class less society without divisions of any kind. Sooner or later there may be demands to enhance this quota and that will spell a lot of trouble as existing 50% quota holders too will join in to demand more reservations. In fact a leader from Smajwadi Party has already asked to enhance the quota of all OBCs (Other Backward Communities) to 54% from existing 50%. Are we ready to face such a situation and kill merit for all times to come?
The Prime Minister has tweeted that “It is our endeavour to ensure that every person, irrespective of caste or creed gets to lead a life of dignity and gets access to all opportunities”. Does dignity come by offering doles or offering back door entry without merit at the expense of more meritorious? It does appear that the understanding of what leads one to a life of dignity is certainly misunderstood. Pushing a few towards life of dignity at the cost of others does not ensure dignity even for those who are pushed. The real test for a life of dignity is passed when one competes on equal footing with others and then succeeds. This implies talking measures to prepare the less fortunate in the society to be able to compete openly with others. That is where successive governments have failed in last seven decades and to hide their failures they resort to shortcuts like this bill.
Is there a silver lining to this bill? There are a few indirect positives that will certainly accrue in the near future once the bill clears judicial scrutiny and is implemented. First the agitations by upper castes in Gujarat, Maharashtra and elsewhere for reservations will now lose steam as this bill does address their needs to some extent. The bill is based on economic criteria unlike all other reservations of the past that were based on social criteria. This bill if successful in its implementation, may force a review of earlier reservation bills that are not based on economic criteria. This may appear to be a long shot but the possibility cannot be dismissed. The government can claim that this bill certainly comes under the gambit of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” as most political parties have voted in its favour. Also it is applicable to all in the general category irrespective of caste or creed.
Time alone will tell if this bill will be a game changer for BJP’s fortunes in the next national elections that are only a few months away. The implementation of the bill will have to take into account the changing economic conditions of people, both for the better and for worse. So measures will have to be in place to cater for this in and out movement from within this new quota. Unfortunately the past quotas based on social criteria failed in this respect thus allowing a few to usurp most of the benefits. The real test of this bill will be if it can force the reservation criteria to move away from social to economic considerations in the years to come. If this happens then reduction of reservations may become imminent as economic conditions improve with time.