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Promises to keep

The hue and cry raised over the implementation of reservations for OBC students in higher educational institutions has once again exposed the conservative mindset of our elite and the duplicity of several political parties.

india Updated: May 22, 2006 00:58 IST

The hue and cry raised over the implementation of reservations for OBC students in higher educational institutions has once again exposed the conservative mindset of our elite and the duplicity of several political parties. Reservations have been accepted as a tool for social levelling and thus for the purpose of making India a coherent nation. The Government of India has a constitutional obligation to provide reservations for OBCs not only in services, but also in educational institutions. But even after 55 years of the constitutional provision made through the first amendment of the Constitution by the Constitutional Assembly itself, social justice to OBCs is still being denied.

Who is responsible for this? Why this delay? The answer is not difficult to find out. Last year, when both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill to ensure reservations not only in government institutions but also in private institutions, no political party opposed it. Yes, the BJP had some reservations, but that was related to the private minority institutions. The BJP wanted reservations for OBCs in all institutions, while the Bill excluded the minority institutions. In fact, the BJP seemed to be the most vocal champion for OBC students.

But when the government took the initiative to implement the constitutional mandate, many political parties behaved in a peculiar manner. Those who voted for reservations in Parliament could not come out with the statement that they supported the move and that the government was only following things up. Those parties that did not support the move openly have again proved that they have two faces — one that appears in Parliament and the other outside it.

The elite opposed the move of the government. It has happened many times in the history of modern India. A hundred-and-fifty years ago, when the British government tried to give education to Shudras (OBCs) and Atishudras (SCs), there was violent opposition to that move. The British government was forced to withdraw its move to provide education to the Shudras even in elementary schools. Jyoti Rao Phule, after managing to provide education for himself, educated his wife Savitri Bai. When both of them started educating Shudras, Atishudras and women, they faced violent opposition from the elite class. The Phule family could not cope with the pressures against them and Jyoti Rao and Savitri were forced to leave their home. Phule was forced to make his school his abode. Then Dhondi Ba, Pune’s most notorious criminal, was hired to kill the Phule couple. Dhondi Ba was himself a Kumhar, a Shudra from the potter caste.

Coming face to face with Dhondi Ba, Phule wanted to know why he was killing him. Dhondi Ba was aware that the people who hired him were against Phule’s mission to educate Shudras, Atishudras and women. This awareness turned into realisation and he fell at Phule’s feet to ultimately become his student and a guard of the Phule couple.

When at last the British government took small steps to extend elementary education to the children of the ‘Untouchables’, there was violence and protests. The Indian Education (Hunter) Commission of 1882 gives instances of such violence in in the Madras Presidency, the Central Provinces and the Bombay Presidency. The administration was in collusion with the perpetrators of this violence as it was manned entirely by people from one of the few communities that had a monopoly over jobs and education. These elements did not want the so-called lower castes to get educated and break their monopoly.

The manner in which reservations to OBCs in higher educational institutions of the central government is being opposed proves that even after 150 years, the mindset of the Indian elite has not changed. They are not ready to accept any logic or see any reason in reservations. Simply put, they are suffering — whether they know it or not — from the mindset that ‘Shudras’ are not fit for higher education and that they should not be given opportunities.

But what they forget is that India is a democracy. No party can ignore the majority. They are free to speak anything they wish. But once inside Parliament, they cannot go against the minorities in a democracy — against the SCs/STs and the OBCs. By voting for the constitutional amendment for providing reservations to OBCs in educational institutions, they have done, what they are supposed to do. It is, however, unfortunate that many of them cannot muster enough courage to repeat outside Parliament that they have supported inside it.

We have given OBC students reservations in government jobs and services, but not in central government educational institutions. This is an absurdity. The right to education must precede the right to jobs. In combined engineering services, OBCs are entitled to 27 per cent reservations. But they are not entitled to reservations in IITs, where quality engineering education is given. What sense does this make?

When reservations for jobs was implemented in 1993 after a Supreme Court judgment, reservations to educational institutions should have been simultaneously given. Unfortunately, the Congress government at that time ignored the OBCs.

Implementation of reservations has once again been put on hold. No time-frame has been decided for its implementation. If the government makes unreasonable delays in its implementation, the Congress-led UPA will have to face serious political consequences.

The Congress has already paid a heavy price for not implementing the Mandal Commission report for ten years. If the Congress does not implement it immediately, it may have to see how the ‘silent majority’ takes its revenge against a handful of people.

It is significant to note that this time round, no one demanded reservations. It was Parliament that took the suo motu action of amending the Constitution after a court judgment. If the UPA government does not do the needful to respect Parliament and our Constitution, the parties in government will face the electoral consequences far sooner than later.

The writer is the President of the JD(U) and a former Union Minister

First Published: May 22, 2006 00:58 IST