The new thrust of the Government of India and its political partners to introduce reservation for the other backward classes (OBCs) and provide them 27% seats in higher education is unfortunate. The desperate hurry to impose this on the basis of the last caste-based census (1931) shows another attempt to patronize and influence another vote bank ahead of the ensuing and future elections. It is perhaps relevant to mention that when most poverty alleviation programmes have not achieved their targets, even denial of privilege to the forward classes can draw satisfaction from OBC vote banks for political advantage.
Five decades after the Constitution was adopted, citizen associations and NGOs have been compelled to seek relief from newly enacted laws or lack of application of existing laws that results in curtailing the rights of citizens. This has been going on for three decades. The recent cause for bitter debate has been the series of parliamentary initiatives to introduce 27% reservation in higher education for OBCs.
Reservation entered our lexicon through our Constitution, when some seats were reserved on the basis of caste. It was hoped that this would lead to providing representation, informed awareness leading to advancement of the backward castes and provide ground-reality information to the rest. This was to be tried for 10 years and was to cease after that. But reservations have been extended over 60 years.
The debate has become exceedingly contentious because arguments for and against can be traced to caste and party affiliation. There is no consideration of national interest in any of these debates.
Today, after five decades, reservations have become a permanent fixture. They have spread from legislature to employment in government and entrance to higher education. There is, however, a flaw in the mindset of the political leadership.
When reservations exceed 40- 50%, positive affirmative action overruns into a negative bias zone, affecting all other population segments.
All of the above has been pursued without any impact assessment or independent evaluation, which should be integral to all affirmative action so as to refine its impact to achieve measurable goals.
During this entire period of reservation, India has been going through an economic transformation, with the resultant building of a large middle class with entrants from all castes without reservation.
The reaction of the youth to the recent reservation has been unpredictably severe and wide spread, and is related to the causes mentioned above.
A recent entrant in the fray is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who made the call for parliamentary supremacy among the three pillars of Indian democracy.
The general public, if asked, would endorse the contribution made to equity and democracy by the judiciary. The proceedings of Parliament are not always based on logic and analysis, and the level of debates does not create confidence and admiration in the mind of the aam aadmi.
This approach of increasing reservation is confrontational. It also perpetuates the caste system—with no attempt at national integration, reconciliation and harmony.
M.M. Kapur is convener, Peoples Urban Consensus. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org