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Rajiv?s greatest speech

I've just read Rajiv Gandhi's September 1990 speech when the Mandal report was the big subject of controversy, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2006 03:24 IST

Thank god for Rajiv Gandhi. I've just read his speech in the Lok Sabha of the 6th of September 1990 when the Mandal report was the big subject of controversy. It was a two-and-a-half hour command performance and I strongly recommend this government read the speech as well. If nothing else, Sonia Gandhi should. Her late husband's views are enlightening.

Rajiv Gandhi began by claiming he wasn't debunking Mandal but the case he made against the Commission was so powerful and convincing that that's precisely what he did. He also raised serious questions about the V P Singh  government's motivation in implementing the report which apply, without any alteration, to the government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh and functioning under the tutelage of his wife.

First, let me summarise the case Rajiv made against Mandal. To begin with, Mr. Gandhi pointed out that the three important sociologists involved with the Mandal Commission — Professors Roy Burman, Srinivas and Jogendra Singh — who were thanked in the report for the work they had allegedly done, declined the honour and, as Rajiv put it, “have clearly said that they were denied any real opportunity to participate in the findings.”

Then Rajiv pointed out that the report is based on the work of a research and planning team “which met for only three days” and a second panel that met for five. Rajiv's conclusion: “This means no specialist, no sociologist was involved with this report apart from these eight days.”

Now let’s turn to the data the report is based upon. Rajiv pointed out that the first set of data is from the cost indexing of 1891 and the census of 1931. As he asked: “We are talking about data which is a hundred years old or sixty years old. Is that valid today?”

To buttress this, Rajiv said that the Mandal Commission carried out two further exercises. First, it approached state governments for information. But, as B P Mandal himself admitted in the report: “It was rather disappointing to see that hardly any state was able to give the desired information.” Second, the Commission carried out a survey in 810 villages out of India's then total of 5 lakh. That's 0.00162 per cent! And how were these villages chosen? As Rajiv Gandhi put it: “They went on to arbitrarily select two villages and one urban block from each district.” Worse, and again let’s quote Rajiv: “The survey was conducted by junior government officials without any supervision or checking or validation by any high ranking or known sociologist.”

Consequently, so shoddy is the research and the data thus derived that the Mandal Commission's conclusion that 52 per cent of the population is OBC is, as Rajiv commented, seriously flawed. As he said: “Many castes that are listed in (this) list are forward castes and are scheduled castes ... I know for a fact that Brahmins are included, Reddys are included, Vokkaligas are included, Kammas are included, Lingayats are included, Gounders are included, Chettiyars are included. Are these backward castes? Do they need the help? This is how 52 per cent has been derived.”

The real blow that Rajiv struck was, ironically, when he quoted the Commission itself. This is the Commission's conclusion (para 11.27) about its own work: “In the end, it may be emphasised that the survey has no pretensions to being a piece of academic research.”

Finally, right at the end of his speech, Rajiv referred to an article in The Independent, a now defunct newspaper. Recalling a conversation some newspaper editors had had with the then Prime Minister, V P Singh, about the possibility of implementing the Mandal Commission report, The Independent wrote that V P Singh replied: “The report was purely a political strategy and that he was not so foolish.” Sixteen years later is another government, this time under the tutelage of Rajiv's wife, attempting the same political strategy?

If that question is pertinent, perhaps Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi should respond to the closing words of Rajiv's speech: “Let us not have one man’s obstinacy holding India hostage ... Let that man’s obstinacy not lead to caste war ... I appeal to the patriotism and patriotic feelings of every member in this House not to remain idle, not to remain quiet and save this nation from the obstinacy of one person.”

I anxiously and eagerly await Rajiv's widow's reply. Perhaps the PM might have something to say as well.