In India, the reservation issue is such a touchy one that taking a strong stand against it is always interpreted as being pro-caste and anti-poor. On the other hand, if one is for quotas, then one is quickly labelled anti-merit. This polarised situation works beautifully for political parties: Instead of using quotas judiciously, they use it as doles for votes in elections. But thankfully, the courts are there to do the hard talking: Last week, the Rajasthan High Court struck down a law providing education and job quotas to pastoral community Gujjars among other groups. A division bench of Justices Manish Bhandari and JK Ranka passed the order on petitions challenging an October 2015 government notification that gave 5% reservation to the special backward classes (SBCs), including Gujjars. The law, the petitioners said, violated the 50%-limit set by the Supreme Court a few years ago. The 5% quota had pushed up the reservation in the state to 54%. More importantly, the court said that reservation should not be provided “to achieve political goals”. The court also noted that data for establishing the backwardness of the five communities had not been collected to the extent required.
The court’s decision could be a headache for the Vasundhara Raje government: Even though Gujjars are just 7% of the state’s population, they are politically an influential community and launched an agitation in 2007 for reservation in government jobs and education. More than 70 people have been killed in the decade-long stir in clashes with police and other communities opposing the demand. The state government could be staring at another round of agitation because they feel cheated by the government.
In the last few years, there have been several demands for quota from communities, which can do without them: Gujjars in Rajasthan, Patels in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra. Most of these groups have been agitating because they have not been able to keep up with the changing times marked by low yields in agriculture, shrinking employment outside farming and the demands of a knowledge economy. In such a challenging situation, it is hardly surprising that political parties keep on taking the easy way out.