The Gujarat government’s offer of a 10% quota for the economically backward among the upper castes — the Patidars, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, etc — can be viewed from various angles. This is partially in imitation of the Rajasthan government’s decision to set aside 14% reservation for the ‘extremely backward classes’ among the ‘forward castes’, within the overall 19 percentage point increase in quotas it had announced. In the Gujarat case, the first thing that strikes a viewer is that the government is aiming at mollifying the Patidars (Patels), whose campaign for reservations is being spearheaded by Hardik Patel, now in jail. But the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti has been quick to reject the government offer by calling it a lollipop because it is a restricted form of reservation, meant for those whose family income is Rs 6 lakh per annum and below.
Second, it is the third among the BJP-ruled states — after Haryana and Rajasthan — to raise reservations above the 50% level, which militates against a Supreme Court order of 1992. Ironically, the BJP rode to power at the Centre on the plank of good governance, which implies having competent, neutral people in responsible positions. Third, reservations, when they came into force in the early years of independence, were meant to be a temporary expedient intended to correct historical injustices towards marginalised societies. Now they are simply barrelling along to placate restive groups out to armtwist the State.
The way the three states have gone about the matter is bound to have consequences. Once the Haryana government put the Jats and five other castes on the reserved list, other communities that are deprived vis-a-vis the Jats are bound the feel the pinch, despite the increase in the quota level.
Now the Jats have threatened to renew their agitation if the quota for them is not increased. And any amount of restructuring of the reservation apparatus will not help. For example, in the case of Rajasthan, how can it be anybody’s contention that the deserving candidates among ‘extremely backward classes’ among the ‘forward castes’ must accommodate themselves within the 14%? What happens to the deserving surplus? Do they contest in the open category?
And the most deleterious aspect of reservation politics is that it only sharpens caste divisions in society, leading to violence. If reservations are to continue, why not have them solely on economic criteria? That will bring within the fold of quotas religious minorities, many of whom certainly deserving of reservation. After all, a hungry person is a hungry person, whichever caste or religion she or he belongs to.