Lack of consensus on reservations is hurting the poor
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Lack of consensus on reservations is hurting the poor

This is the time to reconsider this system (of reservation) too. Are we not creating a new section of the deprived along with the upliftment of the oppressed classes?

columns Updated: Jan 14, 2019 07:57 IST
reservation,quota for economically weaker sections,Narendra Modi
If the opposition wants to undermine BJP’s move of new reservations, then it will have to present its case before people intensely and with genuine arguments.(Pardeep Pandit/HT Photo)

More than a meaningful debate over how much the poor upper castes will be benefited with the provision of reservation, our discourse everywhere is focused on how much the Narendra Modi government will benefit? Has the government foiled the sharp attacks by the opposition with this single move? Such questions are bound to arise in the election year.

A significant reason behind this discussion is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had faced the ire of the upper castes in the assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Voters had started expressing their resentment even before the polls. The election results merely echoed it. Needless to mention here that this section has always been a reliable vote bank for the BJP.

Although the BJP had started social engineering much earlier, it always maintained its influence over the urban upper castes. During this time the leadership of the party became so engrossed in enhancing the party’s vote base that it did not even realise that the old bonds are cracking. The Gujarat elections last year made it very clear. But the assembly election results in December were so disastrous that the party coordinators felt it was not the time for contemplation but for immediate action. The reservation wager is an effort to change that perception.

That is why it is now being asked if the upper castes once again will try with all their might to bring Modi back to power. During the debate over the reservation proposal, the restlessness that was apparent among the major opposition parties in Parliament confirms it. In the last four and a half years, those who were seen ripping every decision by the government apart in both the Houses of Parliament were seen supporting this proposal, even if without enthusiasm. They had only one thing to say which they repeated time and again with great tenacity and intensity, namely, that the intention behind this decision was just to reap electoral benefits. They raised the question that if the government was so concerned about the poor upper castes then it should have taken this decision four years ago. Had it done so, the ruling coalition would have collapsed well in time as a result of the objections by the leaders who had doubts over this decision. It’s certain that the opposition will harp on this during the coming electoral circus. Will this reduce the impact of this political missile deployed by Modi?

Please recall that in November, when Dharam Sansad was organised in Ayodhya under the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, it was asked loud and clear why the issue of Ram temple was being taken up after four years of the tenure of the ruling government have passed? Had the ruling party and its allies been so serious and concerned about this issue, they would have taken some meaningful action right in the beginning. This issue, emerged strongly during the television debates, continued to chase the BJP during the assembly elections in five states. The result is before us. The saffron party had to lose three states. Will the reservation bet by Modi also meet the same fate?

Before reaching any conclusion, we should keep in mind that the Ram Janmabhoomi issue is decades old. Religion can be sanatana (eternal) but the controversies emerging or cultivated from it cannot be stretched for long.

Once the delicate thread of faith is snapped, it can’t be mended entirely, however hard we may try. On the contrary, the issue of reservation is directly related to our livelihood. For the last 70 years, a large section of the society has been living with the feeling of being deprived of the present system of reservation. If this feeling of hurt can be mitigated a little by this decision, then the government and the ruling party can benefit a little. If the opposition wants to undermine BJP’s gains, then it will have to present its case before people intensely and with genuine arguments. Do they have populist arguments for this issue?

Here is a crucial question. It has been almost 70 years since reservation was implemented in the country. In all these years, India has gone through many phases of social and economic changes. This is the time to reconsider this system (of reservation) too. Are we not creating a new section of the deprived along with the upliftment of the oppressed classes? If it is so, then how far is it appropriate to lay the foundation of a new imbalance in the society in the name of social equality?

The people who point out the flaws of the reservation system allege that the parties have always kept their political interests in mind while implementing it. But issues like education, health and welfare of deprived people have been sidelined. We have been a failure in creating an economy which could make people economically self-dependent. Though some people did get government jobs, the road to progress and welfare of all became increasingly narrower.

Had our political leaders reached a consensus on this issue during the election year, it would have been much better and fruitful. But they have chosen to continue with their age-old ways.

Times have changed, when will our leaders change?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 14, 2019 07:42 IST