Review reservations

A Srinivas | Updated on January 22, 2018


Not by denying their need, but by fine-tuning them

Political pundits are of the view that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s views on reservations — that they should be ‘reviewed’ — played a role in the BJP’s loss in Bihar. To be fair to Bhagwat, he has a point, except that he is the wrong person to talk about the subject. The RSS lacks the credentials — with its upper caste leadership and sensibility — to openly discuss social justice in contemporary India. However, the question of whether reservations, in jobs, higher education and legislatures, should be fine-tuned in keeping with changing socio-economic realities has been raised earlier.

For instance, a paper, Redesigning Affirmative Action by Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande ( Economic and Political Weekly, June 17, 2006) argues for a nuanced, multiple-indicator-based approach to deprivation in the case of ‘other backward classes’. While OBCs as a whole are a disadvantaged category, they are also a heterogeneous lot, with divergences between and within OBC groups. For instance, to address the gender gap within OBCs, it is important that women get a headstart in the quota. The income gap issue has been acknowledged, with the ‘creamy layer’ under scrutiny. The extent of disadvantage would also depend on whether an individual is based in rural or urban India. A multiple-indicators approach, in use for years in JNU, is gaining acceptance elsewhere.

There can be no denying the role of reservations in redressing socio-economic imbalances. SC/STs continue to exist on the margins and there cannot yet be a case for extending the multiple-indicators approach here. But the use of caste as the only norm for OBCs needs to be revisited. That said, it makes no sense to debate ‘religion-based’ quotas. The Constitution provides for quotas for ‘socially and educationally backward classes’, under which disadvantaged Muslims have been rightly accommodated at least in the southern States. Quotas have helped southern States surge ahead of the northern ones.

Senior Deputy Editor

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Published on November 11, 2015
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