When political parties are in troubled waters, they will latch on to anything to swim to safety. Earlier this week, hoping to deflect attention from the coal scam, the Congress pulled a rabbit out from its hat: it moved a Bill in Parliament that clears the residual legal hurdles to give the two most disadvantaged groups in society — backward scheduled castes and scheduled tribes — priority when it comes to promotions in government jobs. But the Bill failed to pass muster in Parliament after opposition from the Samajwadi Party which demanded that such quotas also be extended to the Other Backward Classes. The legislation seeks to replace Article 16(4A), which enables the State to provide a promotion quota for SC/STs, with a new formulation that would “render irrelevant the need to prove backwardness and inadequate share in services”. It also seeks to insulate the ‘promotion quota’ from the effects of Article 335 that says that quota policies should not adversely impact the efficiency of administration.
When the reservation policy was first rolled out in India, it was seen as an enabling provision that gave the State the discretionary power to help those who would otherwise be excluded from social and economic progress thanks to the caste system. But in the subsequent years, from being a discretionary instrument, it became a mechanism for political parties to advance their political agendas. What started off as a temporary provision for just scheduled castes now covers Other Backward Classes, and is even being sought to be extended to religious minorities as well.
While no one is against affirmative action by the State for the disadvantaged in society, a reservation policy is not the answer. The latest one, in fact, is certain to have long-term repercussions on our already problematic administrative system. The move, ironically by the Congress, also goes against what its own prime minister has been emphasising for years: the need for a merit-based system. In any case, as Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut correctly said, “A hungry stomach doesn’t have any caste”. Instead of going ahead with such ill-thought-out policies, the government should review how much effect such policies have had on the country in the last 65 years and then decide whether such policies are required at all or whether they need to be reworked to meet the demands of the time and the needs of disadvantaged people. Unless that is done, the policy will have no real effect on the lives of the people; instead it will lead to social tensions between the classes, a situation that India can ill afford at this juncture.