One thing can be said of the author of this scholarly work: There is no one whether in the field of academia or media who can hold a candle to Arun Shourie when it comes to presenting a point of view, with facts and figures and an unassailable argument. No wonder that he was acclaimed by the International Press Institute as one of the ?World Press Freedom Heroes? of the last half century, and by The Economic Times for his pioneering work on privatisation.
In this marvellously researched work, Shourie takes on another shibboleth-reservations for the SC/ST/OBCs in practically all fields of human activity in India that is making a mockery of justice. That the judiciary, too, has regrettably got involved into the politics of reservations hasn'tmade matters easy for those who oppose the very concept of reservations on a matter of principle. Incidentally, a shibboleth?, according to the Oxford Dictionary is ?a custom, principle or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people?.
Shibboleth, then, is a very apt description of what is being fought over in the name of righting ancient wrongs. Shourie is not one to hide behind words. His stand is clear and he makes no bones about it. He is opposed to reservations as they stand and as the case for them is presented by political parties quoting chapter and verse.
It may not be that well known, that the Constitution of India has explicitly forbidden classification of people based on caste. And yet, if we are to accept what the powers-that-be aver, in the days to come, some 52 per cent of jobs in government are to be reserved for Other Backward Castes, on the questionable grounds that many of the Indian population fall under that category. There has been no caste-wise enumeration and tabulation since the 1931 Census. In the circumstances how has the government come to pick up this particular figure of 52 per cent? Asks Shourie bitterly: ?The race then was to get one'sgroup recognised as a higher caste. How has it become a race to get it anointed as ?backward?? Are the backward castes?so-called?the weak ones who need protection and special privileges? Are they not the dominant, and domineering castes? Who is most responsible for atrocities on Harijans??
Good questions. Power in India has increasingly shifted from the much-abused ?upper castes? to the Backward or ?other backward? castes as the caste base of most State Cabinets will clearly show. That power has, in recent years, not only been backed by muscle power but by financial power as well. Some of the richest people in the country belong to the Other Backward Castes and to say that their members should get reservations not only in all government appointments but also the right of seniority as well, is not only to damn the Constitution but to make and abject mockery of social justice. In order to capture votes, our political parties, it would seem, would walk an extra mile, to seem to befriend voters from a conglomeration of castes, conveniently labelled as ?backward?.
Asks Shourie: ?Where will this process end? Has it not already enfeebled the State structure? Has it not already riven our society? Has it not subverted parliamentary democracy? Has Pandit Nehru'swarning not come true that ?this way lies not only folly but disaster?? What is shocking, as Shourie take great pains to point out, is that reservations have been allowed to become a vested interest. Reservations are seen to become so profitable that some castes, which in the thirties and forties were aspiring for a higher status, are now all-too-willing to be pushed down the scale to benefit from the political manna being offered to them. The situation has reached such a stage that more castes are being added to the already lengthy list of backward classes. Asks Shourie very legitimately: ?Are castes being added to the list because they are deprived or because they are so powerful that politicians today just have to pander to them?? Pandering, indeed, is the right word to describe the process that is being laid down.
In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, Assistant Engineers of 1978 vintage in the Irrigation Department are yet to be given their first promotion to the level of Executive Engineers while Scheduled Caste engineers, who joined four years later, have already become Superintendent Engineers and Chief Engineers?and efficiency be damned. What have we come to? It is the same story in other states as well. In Karnataka, for instance X who joined the Police Department in 1970 was overtaken in seniority by sub-inspectors who joined nine years later, just because they came from the SCs. In point of fact, already 50 of the 76 SP level posts in Karnataka are now occupied by reserved category candidates. The sad part of it all is that there have been instances of the judiciary supporting the theory of reservations with pompous rhetoric. Reservation has become as fashionable as socialism was in the Nehru era and poverty hatao in the Indira Gandhi days. The idea is, as one judge put it, ?out of evil comes good? and ?quicker the redemption of the oppressed classes, so much the better for the nation?. The whole concept is laughable.
One might well ask: Do we have to commit evil in the hope that some good will come out of it? Another point raised is that the efficacy of the reservation policy will, consist in how soon reservations can be done away with! How soon is soon? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred? What are we talking about? Shourie is not bitter. All that he does is to hold the mirror to our society and to our politics to show the real face of politicians. He quotes extensively from court judgments?some forty nine of them, which by itself is something of a record. The result is a damning indictment of not only reservations as such but of the political face of India.
But what is it that Shourie wants? The way to climb out of the abyss, he insists that: ?No status, no job, no post, no position, no concession should be accorded to anyone by virtue of his or her birth, caste, creed, religion or race? and that ?indeed, none of these should be given to anyone as an entitlement, as a matter of right?. But who would in these days of democracy-gone-awry ever listen to the voice of reason? But Shourie has done his job, as a sane citizen of India who has the greater good of his country at heart. And isn'tthat something to be proud of? Shourie has done a splendid job, as only he could. This is must reading for everyone?but especially politicians and judges.
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