The issue of reservations in India has gone from being a case for providing a level-playing field to historically backward communities to one of even dominant castes demanding quotas because they feel that they are not doing well, economically or socially.
Notwithstanding the community and the state, the modus operandi for such demands has been similar: Raise the pitch for such a demand, indulge in violence and then force the government to announce a quota deal to ensure peace.
More often than not, mercifully, the courts have stepped in to stop supine state governments from handing out such politically lucrative freebies. Take the case of the Patidar demand for quotas in Gujarat. Last week, the Gujarat high court cancelled the state’s decision to give 10% reservation for the poor among upper castes, a move taken in April by the BJP to placate the Patels after a drubbing in the local body polls.
Under the Supreme Court guidelines, governments cannot provide reservation beyond 50% of their population. The judges’ rationale, correctly, was that the state should not go by the “perception of the self-proclaimed socially backward class or advanced classes” on whether they deserved to be categorised among the “less fortunates”.
Dismissing the government’s argument that the quota was not reservation but classification, the HC said it was without any scientific survey or data.
Patels, as the judges said, are an unlikely caste to be seeking such recognition: They are dominant in Gujarat, prominent, successful and wealthy beyond their share of 15% of the state’s population. The former chief minister and several ministers were from the community. The new deputy chief minister, Nitin Patel, is also from the community.
Patels, however, are not the only ones that faced the court’s strict tackling of the reservation issue; the Jats in Haryana faced the same thing a couple of months ago when they demanded inclusion in the OBC category. The Supreme Court struck down the government’s notification on the demand, holding that politically organised communities like the Jats cannot be included in the Central list of OBCs, saying that the state should not go by the “perception of the self-proclaimed socially backward class or advanced classes” on whether they deserved to be categorised among the “less fortunates”.
The Gujarat HC ruling could not have come at a worse time for the BJP in Gujarat, where the state government is also facing Dalit anger over the lynching of community members for skinning dead cows. But the Gujarat government as well as other state government must realise that quotas as political tool can only create perpetual unrest and this handing out quotas at the first hint of an agitation must stop even if it is politically painful for a while.