Reservation is no more about equality and inequality. It is all about more votes and strengthening vote banks. In the last decade or so, especially after the Mandal salvo by VP Singh, the issue of reservation has come up routinely and been treated by our politicians with a tremendous haughty indifference, of distributing largesse that does not belong to them. In politics there are no two sides on the issue of reservation, with no party wanting to be seen as ?opposing? benefits to potential vote banks. The angst of those left out of the reservation magic ring finds expression in occasional protests or when the courts rule in their favour.
How have the lawmakers treated an issue as serious as reservation, which affects the future of the nation, the coming generations and the quality of life we enjoy and leave behind? It would be laughable if not tragic to read the way our Parliament ?debated? the issue.
Rajeev Dhavan, in a highly engrossing book Reserved! How Parliament Debated Reservations 1995 -2007 exposes the attitude of politicians and the functioning of our law making system. The narrative on the way our Parliament took decisions and passed laws, after next to nothing debates sends a sense of unease down the spine.
According to Dhavan, the watershed in parliamentary debates was the ?Emergency (1975-77) which brought many democratic traditions and policies to a halt?. Authoritarian majoritarianism stalks through the columns of the debate? (during the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act).
The tone of the book has been set by a brief forward by Fali Nariman who regrets the ?smooth super-swift passage through Parliament of a succession of Constitutional amendments.? The 77th Amendment Bill in 1995 was passed in the Lok Sabha with nominal debate and in the Rajya Sabha without any debate! And this concerned the reservations in promotions for the SC/ST, in jobs, lowering the standards to accommodate the various social groups who had been already given special concessions at recruitment and educational level. And the MPs did not debate the issue threadbare before voting. The successive amendment to the Constitution regarding reservations, exercises done in the name of equality, just reversed the discrimination, perpetuating inequality if not creating more imbalances. As Nariman says, ?Even the Hindu law theory of ?pious obligation? required the Hindu son to meet the financial obligations only of his father, not the forebears of his father.?
According to Dhavan, between 1995 and 2005 the Parliament passed a spate of amendments to the Constitution with regard to reservations. But most of these were brought about to overrule or overturn the Supreme Court'sdecisions. ?Politics had completely overtaken the process of constitutional amendment? says he, with all the political parties in agreement, bickering over only minor details, just to score some points.
Most of the speakers during the limited debates spent their time praising their leadership for introducing the ?revolutionary? Bill or for the initiatives that resulted in the Bill. Hardly anything much was said about the consequences of the Bill on the affected people.
The book is a commendable work and is a commentary on politicalisation of lawmaking in India now. Good, healthy parliamentary debates became things of the past with the introduction of the committee system, where all matters were discussed and decided by a selected group of members, away from public scrutiny. But Dhavan has exposed the danger of constitutional amendments that our members of Parliament resort to when faced with adverse (from their view) and unpalatable court decisions. Since Shah Bano case, such incidents have even stopped raising public interest. The book, adequately indexed, needs to be read and more importantly mulled over by the present and the upcoming generation of politicians, the latter more seriously.
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