Domino effect of EWS quotas
Any big departure in reservation policy should at least begin with a detailed assessment of facts.
Earlier this month, the Union government enacted a law to provide 10% reservations to economically weaker sections (EWS) of communities hitherto not entitled to these benefits. That the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has done this with the next Lok Sabha elections in mind is beyond doubt. That most other parties did not oppose the move due to political considerations is also clear.
Whether or not the move passes the scrutiny of the Supreme Court will have to be seen. What is already evident, however, is the domino effect this move has had across the country. The Gujarat government has announced that benefits of EWS quota will not be given to those who have settled in the state after 1978. The Andhra Pradesh government has said that it will carve out half of the 10% EWS quota for the Kapu subcaste. Tejashwi Yadav from the Rashtriya Janata Dal has demanded that reservations be increased to 90%.
The pattern is clear. Reservation policy has become a huge tool for vote mobilisation rather than a corrective mechanism for the backwardness due to historic discrimination. Political parties have more than demonstrated that this kind of politics has scant regard for constitutional principles or important judgments of the Supreme Court on reservation. This is a dangerous trend. A functional democracy cannot outsource the responsibility of preserving basic constitutional propriety to the judiciary, while political parties go around subverting it.
This is not to say that the reservation policy has to be cast in stone. However, any big departure from such a policy should at least begin with a detailed assessment of facts. India does not even have detailed data on the population share and socioeconomic status of caste groups. Questions of some communities benefitting disproportionately from reservations in comparison to others have also been raised. None of them can be answered conclusively without hard facts.
Last, but not the least, is the concern that implementing reservations is far more complex than announcing it. The controversy around the Supreme Court’s judgment on implementing reservations at the department, and not institution, level in higher education is a good example of this. As more and more categories of reservations are added, such complexities are bound to increase.
The announcement of reservations for EWS among upper castes might have reduced the stigma which was attached with beneficiaries of reservations. But it is likely to further vitiate the politics around reservations.