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Curdling social justice

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 03:55 IST

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So the Union Cabinet has cleared a draft Bill on reservations for OBCs in higher educational institutions that will include members from the ‘creamy layer’ of the category. It appears that they had initially planned to keep this sub-section out of the quota purview. After all, the cited raison d’etre for reservations has always been the uplift of those socially and economically lagging behind the rest of the population because of historical imbalances in Indian society. One would assume that if any section of society needs a leg-up from the State, it isn’t the ‘creamy layer’ — vaguely defined as a person who has been “able to shed off the attributes of social and educational backwardness and has secured employment or has himself engaged in some trade/profession of high stage and at which stage he is normally in no need of reservation”. But then, whoever said that the reservations issue was really about creating a level-playing field and not about politics?

The objections to excluding well-off ‘backward castes’ came from the usual suspects: one-trick pony parties such as the DMK, the PMK and the Lok Janshakti. The DMK-PMK combine had, in fact, demanded that the staggering of seats in educational institutions, as suggested by the Veerappa Moily Oversight Committee report, be scrapped and the 27 per cent quota for OBCs be implemented at  one go. One wonders whether this inane and deleterious proposal would have been accepted by the Union Cabinet were it not for Lalu Yadav opposing the move. As Union Railway Minister — and no longer as Chief Minister — Mr Yadav may have shown his radically progressive side to expand and subtly change his political street credo. But he has shown that nifty politics can also mean thinking about the good of things that lie beyond one’s electoral nose. The Left, thankfully, has shown that it still sees Mandal politics through the rubric of class — rather than the ossified lens of caste.

Reserving jobs for ‘creamy layer’ OBCs is like forcibly keeping people in hospitals long after they have been cured. We have always argued that reservations are the most inept form of providing social justice. Providing quotas to the ‘creamy layer’ doesn’t even make the grade of making sense. Instead of expending all that energy in deciding who falls into the ‘creamy layer’ category — “children of the President, the Vice-President... doctors, lawyers... computer specialists, film professionals,” etc. — and then still put them in the ‘non-creamy layer’ crib, it’s time that this ‘progressive’ government sees the reservations issue for what it is: nothing else but a ball to be kicked around in the political park.

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