HRD Minister Arjun Singh and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh have emerged as protagonists of the Congress party'sdistorted version of ?social justice? that will deepen the fault lines in the society without serving any public purpose. The HRD Minister'sannouncement of 27 per cent quota for OBCs in Institutes of higher education has provoked widespread protests from the intelligentsia, faculty and the students that may snowball into a repeat of the public outrage against the mandalisation of society by V P Singh. As if to prove that the entire party is marred in caste politics, the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister has stalled the appointment of high court judges on the specious premise that names recommended by the collegium of judges didn'treflect the caste composition of the state – an unheard of proposition in the judicial history of the country. The Chief Minister'scaste politics is no secret but his latest attempt to inject caste considerations in judicial appointments is fraught with grave dangers. Judges are appointed on merit and their ability to rise above personal, religious and caste considerations and not to give representation to communities and castes. Neither the Constitution nor the norms followed all over the country say that the composition of a high court bench should be in sync with the caste profile of a state. Singh has set a dangerous precedent that poses a serious threat to the independence and credibility of the judiciary. Since the Himachal Pradesh Chief Justice Shri V.K. Gupta has taken a no-nonsense stand on the issue, it is for the Supreme Court to step in and resolve the issue that has assumed urgency. As of now, the strength of the bench is only three against the sanctioned strength of nine in a high court that has a backlog of several thousand cases. Let a strong message go down to all concerned that caste politics has no space in judicial appointments.
As for Arjun Singh, his motives are under suspect. It is hard to believe that he was moved by his ?deep concern? for the under-privileged. It is a political stunt and a crude attempt to influence voters in the five states where election process is underway. The Congress party and the scheming Thakur don'tseem to have learnt any lesson from V P Singh'sdisastrous move way back in 1990. The former Prime Minister unilaterally unleashed genie of casteism on the country in the hope that he would emerge as messiah of the backward communities. That didn'thappen. On the contrary, he lost his job and his dream of emerging as the unquestioned leader of the deprived sections of the society went sour. It were the likes of Mulayam Singh and Laloo Parsad Yadav who managed to emerge as leaders of backward communities by exploiting caste and other narrow loyalties. They too are now on the decline and are looking for support from so-called upper castes to retain their relevance in politics. A worse fate awaits the Congress. There is little chance of the party winning over the OBC vote bank by its latest political gimmick. What is more likely is that its support base among the middle classes and the ?upper castes? is further undermined. The spontaneous reaction to the announcement in the media and the Internet gives enough indication of the public outrage against this party of stunts.
Reservations per se are bad. Experience has shown that they don'tserve the purpose for which these were introduced in the first instance. However, it is to be understood that the Scheduled Castes and scheduled Tribes are a class apart. They suffered severe discrimination – social, economic and religious – for centuries and one can appreciate why the founding fathers of the Constitution provided for reservations for them for 10 years. Whether S/C and S/T were benefited by reservations is a debatable issue. Much can be said on both sides. However, there is little doubt that the quota regime led to the creation of a vested interest that has perpetuated narrow identities and undermined social solidarity. It has now become almost impossible to do away with reservations. However, Backward communities are not in the same league as the so-called ?untouchables?. The former never suffered harsh social discrimination and rejections like the latter. Members belonging to the Backward Castes have often been accused of discriminating against more backward communities and scheduled castes. However, the political reality is that quotas are a highly sensitive issue. No major political party is willing to publicly discuss and debate the issue on merits. The reason is obvious. Every party looks for backward communities? votes and is apprehensive of being painted anti-OBC if it takes a stand against quotas. Small wonder then that most political parties are discussing procedures and norms and not the core issues involved.
The National Knowledge Commission that was constituted by the Prime Minister with the mandate to sharpen the nation'sknowledge edge has taken strong exception to HRD Minister'sproposal saying it amounted to pre-empting debate on the quota regime. Sam Pitroda, Chairman of the Commission, says the move was fraught with long-term implications and pleads for affirmative action instead of quotas. Countless opinion pieces in the media and reports about public protests show which way the wind is blowing. The political class is not in sync with the public opinion on the issue. It is not to deny that the Parliament represents the people of India. What one intends to underline is that there are occasions when political compulsions prevent our elected representatives to articulate what is in national interest. It is on occasions like the present one that the civil society, particularly the professionals and other concerned citizens, should take the lead to call the politicians? bluff and bluntly tell the bitter truth. Let it be stated unambiguously that the quota regime is insidious and reflects a negative approach. Quotas rarely lead to empowerment but certainly undermine excellence and encourage mediocrity.
HRD Minister'sattempt to distinguish between a ?formal announcement? and ?confirmation of Government'sintention? to introduce quotas didn'tcut much ice with the Election Commission. It took a serious note of the clear violation of the model code of conduct and asked the Government to explain why action should not be taken against the Minister for announcing new concessions to certain sections of the electorate. Arjun Singh took a confrontational approach and claimed he was not guilty of any violation of the code and wanted the Commission to point out which part of the code he had violated. His reply didn'timpress the Commssion. It wrote back to the Cabinet Secretary that the Minister had no need to ?disclose? the proposal for quotas in the first place and if his conduct was proper, where was the need for the Cabinet Secretariat to return the draft bill to the HRD ministry. Singh is not out of trouble with the EC. Is he expecting 10, Janpath to intervene through its mole in the Commission to bail him out? Afterall, the crafty politician'sloyalty to the dynasty is not in doubt and he has been in and out of the Congress to serve the dynasty'spolitical interests.