“To stop talking of caste is to shut one’s eyes to the most important single reality of Indian situation. One does not end caste merely by wishing it away. A 5000 year long selection of abilities has been taking place. Certain castes have become especially gifted. Thus for instance the Marwari Bania is on top with regard to industry and finance and the Saraswat Brahmin in respect of intellectual pursuits. It is absurd to talk about competing with these castes unless others are given preferential opportunities and privileges,” expressed candidly, albeit brutally, by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia in his book “The Caste System”.

Lohia in his book added, “I must here make distinction between opportunities for employment and those for education. No one should be turned away from the portals of an educational institution because of his caste. Society would be perfectly justified in turning those away from its employment whom it has so far privileged. Let them earn their living elsewhere. Society is required alone to equip them with the necessary educational ability.”

What was absurd for Dr. Lohia has become, once again, the pet theme of the upper castes after the coronation of Narendra Modi. “Caste-based reservation’s time is over. Job quota should be only on economic criterion,” thunders RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, duly Manish Tewari of Congress endorsing the view. Classes carried this matter to foreign shores too.

TV news anchor Anchor Barkha Dutt’s programme telecast from New York on September 23 at 9 PM (IST) in the context of the agitation of the Patel community in Gujarat is a pointer. The programme consisted of two parts. (i) A discussion with a number of Patels at an apparently Patel-owned restaurant in New Jersey. (ii) An interview and discussion with the renowned economist Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati of the Columbia University telecast in between the above discussion.

At the end of questions to a number of individuals and their answers, the anchor asked those who wanted a review of the Reservation policy, changing it from caste-based Reservation to income-based Reservation to lift their hands and keep them lifted until she completed counting. All hands went up and she announced this fact. Perhaps to make matters doubly sure, she asked those who did not want such review of the Reservation policy to lift their hands and again she announced that not a single hand went up.

Trailers of the interview with Prof. Bhagwati were telecast from the previous day to whet the appetite of viewers including an assertion of the professor that Reservation policy of India is a “disaster”. He seemed to justify the agitation of the Patels on the basis of a rhetorical question: “If 90% of seats are reserved and a middle class family has to do with only 10% unreserved seats for its youth, what can such a family do?”

Mr. P.S. Krishnan, former Secretary to GoI, Ministry of Welfare (also Member, National Commission for SCs and STs, Special Commissioner for SCs and STs, Member-Secretary, National Commission for Backward Classes Member, Expert Committee on Backward Classes etc), issued a detailed rebuttal in the media to each and every point discussed in the New Jersey talk show and Bhagwati’s ill-informed utterances. Here under the correct information provided by the former secretary:

Media objectivity should have required Barkha to gather an assemblage of SCs, STs and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (BCs) and put the same questions to them. If she had done so she would have got exactly the opposite result. Media objectivity should have also required her to mention the proportions of the population in India of the two sets of communities holding the two views.

A participant explained that earlier the condition of the BCs was bad. Therefore, caste-based Reservation was then necessary and Patels had accepted it. According to him, conditions have now changed and there is no need for Reservation for those castes. That well-meaning gentleman seems to have been cut off from the realities in Gujarat.

He does not seem to be aware that before Madhav Singh Solanki, the first CM of Gujarat from the BCs came to power in 1980. None of the previous CMs (who were Brahmins/ Banias/ Patels) introduced Reservation for BCs. It was only Solanki who first introduced Reservation of a mere 10% for BCs in 1980. Immediately, some people of the upper castes, including prominently Patels, pounced upon the SCs who had nothing to do with the Reservation for BCs.

Apparently, it was not only dislike of Reservation for BCs that provoked them, but a deep-seated inherited hostility to the SCs who had traditionally been only farm-servants and other labourers at beck-and-call of the upper castes. The fact that through Reservation for SCs, introduced in 1943 by the initiative of Dr Ambedkar, some SC persons had begun to get educated, progress and occupy positions of dignity was too much for the upper castes to stomach.

Again in 1985, the State Government under Solanki announced increase in the BC Reservation quota to 28% as recommended by the Rane Commission, closer to the population of BCs. There was a widespread agitation against the Reservation by Patels and other upper caste students resulting in the withdrawal of the proposed increase. Later it was again introduced (27%) in 1994 in line with the Mandal Commission’s recommendations and the GoI’s order of 1990 thereon.

The gentleman who said things have changed does not seem to be aware of the continuing practices of “Untouchability” and caste-based discriminations against SCs, including social and economic boycott, in Gujarat as in most States and regions of India. He also does not seem to be aware that in all parameters of development, welfare and life the SCs and STs are at the bottom, the Socially Advanced Castes (SACs) such as Patels, Brahmins, Banias are at the top, and the BCs come in between, usually closer to the SCs and STs than to the SACs.

Barkha who comes off in TV programmes as well-informed in many matters must be aware of these facts, but did not seem to find it necessary to take the trouble of informing them of these facts. Should the presentations and programmes relating to Social Justice including Reservation she anchors not free from instinctive birth-based biases?

Bhagwati, also a Gujarati, does not seem to be aware that in Gujarat the total per cent of Reservation is only 49% in posts in the services of the State as well as in seats in educational institutions. He does not seem to be aware that the Constitution of India as interpreted by the Supreme Court does not permit Reservation for social classes (SCs, STs and BCs) to exceed 50%. He also does not seem to be aware that except one State all other States abide by this limit.

Another fact he is not aware of is that the single State’s case where total Reservation has gone up to 69% (not 90% even in that State) is still before the Supreme Court. All these facts must have been known to the generally well-informed Barkha. But she did not find it necessary to place the record straight so that Bhagwati’s comments could be based on realities and not some non-existent 90% Reservation chimera.

Yet another important factor, which a learned Professor and an experienced media anchor should have laid their hands on, before entering into a free-wheeling attack on the Reservation policy of India, which was initiated by wise Maharajas well before Independence in order to rectify the imbalance, in governance and administration, of the monopoly or near-monopoly of a few castes and exclusion of most of the castes accounting for the bulk of the population, was to find out correct facts about the extent of Reservation in education, especially professional education, which is the main bone of contention.

Taking medical, dental, physiotherapy and engineering colleges, the number of seats to which Reservation applies, namely, Government colleges, Government-Aided colleges (only 75% seats in Government-Aided colleges, the rest being management quota), and Autonomous colleges, is 11531, while the number of seats to which Reservation does not apply, namely, Private and “self-financing” colleges, PPP colleges and management quota part of Government-Aided colleges is 63438.

Out of the seats to which Reservation applies, only 49% is reserved for SCs, ST and BCs; this comes to 5650 seats, the remaining 5881 being unreserved seats. Adding this also, the total number of unreserved seats rises to 69319. The ratio is 7.5% seats Reserved and 92.5% Unreserved seats.

The 90% mentioned by Bhagwati is correct; but it is the proportion of Unreserved seats. Is there any room, for complaint by Patels or other SACs? Was it not the duty of one of the most renowned Professors of Economics in the world and one of the senior-most Indian Anchors to have taken these figures into account before indulging in imaginary chimeras of 90% Reservation and nostrums based on such utterly wrong diagnosis?

Bhagwati vehemently characterized the Reservation policy of India as a “disaster”. When Barkha drew him out further by specifically asking him whether this comment applied only to reservation for BCs and not Reservation for SCs and STs, he made it clear beyond doubt that his opposition was to Reservation for SCs and STs also. Both of them seemed to be unaware that Reservation policy which has prevented a disaster in India by giving part relief and hope for the deprived people of India who form the vast majority of the Indian population.

Bhagwati referred to the Reservation policy as Mandal-based policy. Perhaps, he is not aware that Reservation in India started long before Mandal, that its beginnings were in 1902 and that it had covered the whole of peninsular India well before Independence and its main protagonists were enlightened and socially responsive Maharajas, and that even at the Central level, Reservation for SCs began before Independence in 1943 by the efforts of Dr Ambedkar, who was also an illustrious alumnus of the same Columbia University where Bhagwati’s interview took place.

Based on his diagnosis, which is totally off the mark, Bhagwati made the following suggestions:– (I)Vastly increase the number of Unreserved seats. It will be unconstitutional to create and increase seats and not provide Reservation in them. In fact, even in the existing Unreserved private educational sector of seats, SCs, STs and BCs are kept out by flouting a Constitutional Amendment that was passed with virtual unanimity in 2005 empowering the State (the Central and State Governments) to reserve, by law, seats in educational institutions including private institutions for SCs, STs and Bcs. Since then the successive Governments at the Centre and most of the State Governments have been flouting this Constitutional amendment by not moving to get the required legislation passed.

(2) Move from Reservation to “giving handicaps” in terms of marks even up to 30%. Bhagwati did not seem to be aware and Barkha did not inform him that the Supreme Court has laid down that in the case of BCs, the handicap of marks for admission should not exceed 10%, i.e., to say no BC should be admitted to Reserved seats unless his/her qualifying marks (in the qualifying examination) is within 10% of the marks obtained by the last of the Unreserved candidate admitted. In the final examination, at the end of the course, there is no handicap for SCs, STs or BCs. The marks they have to get for passing or for a Class/Division is the same for all candidates of all social classes.

Reservation Not Cause of Vast Unemployment

The story is the same in the employment sector also, though Bhagwati did not specifically refer to this. The total number of posts in the public sector in Gujarat, namely, the State Government, quasi-Government and local bodies is 711,000. Assuming an approximately 30-year cycle and, therefore, assuming approximately 3 per cent of posts falling vacant annually, the total number of posts that may be filled in each year may be 21330, of which reserved seats (@49%) would be 10452. The total number of educated job seekers registered in employment exchanges in Gujarat is 905,500. The reserved seats constitute only 1.15% of the total educated unemployed.

Reservation cannot be blamed for the problems of poor members of the SACs who certainly deserve sympathy and appropriate help but not Reservation. The Arjun Sengupta Committee’s Report has shown that poverty is much more among SCs, STs, BCs and Muslims than among SAC Hindus. The vast unemployment problem cannot be solved by the Reservation policy (Reservation policy was never intended to solve the unemployment problem but to counter inequality and imbalance in the composition of governance and administration and educational opportunities) or by tampering with the Reservation policy.

Duty of Governments, Anchors, Scholarly Commentators and SACs in National Interest

Anchors like Barkha and eminent scholars who comment on Reservation in a free-wheeling manner, taking a predictable position which is based on their birth, must familiarize themselves with the facts which the former secretary has provided them and realize that the purpose for which Reservation was started is yet unfulfilled and that purpose and the Constitutional mandate requires the adoption by all Governments of the full gamut of Social Justice measures (of which Reservation is only a part and not the whole) and implement them sincerely and enable the SC, ST and BC and every caste and tribe of them, to reach a level of Equality with SACs in all parameters and become capable of securing their due share of employment in and outside Government, seats in education at all levels in open competition, and really put an end to “Untouchability”.

It is the duty of the SACs to fully cooperate with this and voluntarily abjure from imposing “Untouchability” on SCs, while seeking legitimate help for the really poor among them within the range of the Constitution. Periodic sniping at the Reservation and Social Justice policies and hampering or sabotaging their full implementation will hinder the growth and development of the nation and its economy, which is our common goal and which is essential for effectively tackling widespread poverty, unemployment and underemployment.

(The article is based on the response of Mr. P.S. Krishnan, Former Secretary, Govt. of India over the reservation issue. The author can be reached at [email protected]   )