Now some elements, whose claims of backwardness are doubtful, also want to have share in the OBC reservation. It has underlined the fact that caste identities are emerging as the new force in Bharateeya democracy
The ferocious Jat agitation in Haryana has on the one hand compelled us to think about new movements for demanding reservation, at the same time it has given us the opportunity to explore the alternative ways of social transformation. These social movements lead to the creation of localised pressure groups and political parties. Many political parties are emerging on these lines where they represent a particular social group. The groups that are numerical minuscule or could not develop their caste leadership are marginalised in this process.
Last year, while nullifying the Centre’s decision to grant OBC quota for Jats, the Supreme Court made it amply clear that new parameters for reservation should be mulled over. According to the apex court, decision based on mere historical backwardness would exclude many social groups from getting the social security. We need to identify such groups. By introducing a new group of ‘trans-gender’ in OBC category, court had given a new direction to the thinking. Though the Court accepted that Caste is the prime factor, it cannot be considered as the only factor in deciding backwardness.
Last March, while passing a stricture while nullifying the Jat reservation, the Court reminded of the report of OBC panel in which Jat is not considered a backward caste. That decision had at least sought the attention of national politics towards the fact that new social thinking is necessary to define the backwardness of various groups. It has also underlined the fact that caste identities are emerging as the new force of in Bharateeya democracy.
The Jat agitation is not limited to Haryana. Other parts of the country are also experiencing the reactions of the same. Rajputs of Rajasthan have raised the similar demand. Their organisation called Shree Rajput Karni Sena has given a warning of nationwide agitation. As per their statement, besides Rajasthan, the agitation can spread to Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The erstwhile Gehlot government in Rajasthan reached to the decision of reservation for Rajputs based on the OBC Commission report. No further steps were taken on this. Since last August, the Patidar agitation of Gujarat has renewed the debate on reservation. Similar demands were raised by Gujjars of Rajasthan, Kapus of Andhra and Marathas of Maharashtra. All these are dominant castes. Why do they demand for reservation?
Parallel to Jat agitation, the Kappu are running the similar movement in Andhra Pradesh. They are the traditional supporters of Telugu Desham Party and Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has expressed his commitment to bringing Kapus in the OBC category. A judicial commission is also constituted for the same. Kapus are comparatively a well to do caste, which was in the backward category till 1960. Why the backward status of this group was taken away? Now even if they get reservation it will within the limits of total 50% reservation. It means some other group will have to share its quota of reservation. There will be obvious reaction from the other OBC groups. This way chain reaction on decision pertaining to reservation is but natural.
In democracy, caste groups have emerged as an important factor in political mobilisation. Therefore, all political parties plan their strategies based on ‘vote bank’ considerations. When we consider the demand for reservation by dominant castes, some caste groups on the basis of their numerical strength, organisation skills, economic might and political acumen have attained rapid upward mobility. Vanniyars of Tamil Nadu is the classic example of the same.
In 1980s, people outside Tamil Nadu first time heard of Vanniyars. Vanniyar Sangham, after formation in 1980, organised a massive rally at Chennai in the same year for the demand of reservation. The mobilisation was so gigantic that police firing had to resort to control the mob.
Traditionally, Vanniyars are just above Dalits in social hierarchy. But now they are a very influential class. Out of 29 districts of Tamil Nadu, 13 are influenced by them. They constitute 15 per cent of the state population, while in the northern parts they are almost 33 per cent. After the demand for reservation and subsequent political rise, in 1989, this group emerged as a prominent political force in the form of Paattaali Makkal Katchi (PMK). In the year 2002, founder of this party, S Ramdos had raised the demand for separate state of northern districts. Now PMK is a formidable force in Tamil politics, along with DMK and AIADMK.
Vanniyars is a story of dramatic rise in the last 3-4 decades. Although 50 per cent Vaniyyars are still agricultural farmers but the influence of social change in Tamil Nadu is the highest on this group. In the rural areas, land parcels sold by Reddiyars, Naidus and Mudaliyars are purchased by Vanniyars. They are replacing the traditional land hoarding castes.
A microscopic observation of social structures in other states also depicts the similar changes. Like Vanniyars, some castes in other states are also trying to carve out their social, political and cultural identity. The emergence of Jat, Gujjars, Rajputs, Maratha and Kapu as a political class is an indication of new politics. We need to seriously ponder over the underpinnings of this phenomenon.
The Constitution of Bharat is committed to non-discrimination among individuals on the basis of caste, creed, religion, gender or place of birth. Article 14-18 are centred based on right to equality. The Constitutional arrangement for reservation was necessitated when the Supreme Court nullified government order in the state of Madras Vs Champakam Dorairajan case way back in 1951. Consequentially, clause 4 was added in Article 15 through the First Constitutional Amendment incorporating provisions for reservation for SCs, STs and socially and educationally backward classes.
In the Constitutional amendment, SCs and STs are categorically mentioned. Simultaneously, according to Article 366 (24) (25), explanatory note was also added in Article 341 and 342. But socially and educationally backward classes were not defined. To define this category, Kaka Kalelkar Commission and BP Mandal Commission were constituted in 1953 and 1978 respectively. Reports of the both the Commissions consider caste as an important basis of backwardness. In the Constitution, the term is ambiguous and there is no direct reference to caste. Though most of the judicial pronouncements have considered caste as the central factor, it is definitely not the sole criteria of backwardness.
Judiciary has dealt with castes as class categories, where the whole group is socially and educationally backward. Caste is a reality; it is a social identity and therefore, can be a starting point in identifying backwardness. At many instances, living in rural area or hilly area is also the basis of backwardness. Caste is not a legal issue. Many caste related cases are pending in the courts and many more will reach to the courts. Judiciary is the mere protector and interpreter of the Constitution.
One of the major causes of backwardness is distress in agrarian economy and slow pace of urbanisation. In a country where 3/4th of the farmers want to get rid of their profession, there is hardly any serious discussion on this critical issue. Reservation is not a problem but a mere symptom of a larger malaise. Approximately 30 per cent population of Bharat lives in urban areas. While China has crossed 53 percent and other developed countries range between 80 to 90 per cent in urbanised population. This is the problem of our developmental model. In March 2014, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) published a report based on survey conducted in 137 districts of 18 states. In the survey 76 per cent of farmers expressed their desire to leave the agricultural profession while 60 per cent want their kids to move to urban centres for studies.
During 1970s, the share of agriculture sector in our GDP was 43 per cent which was reduced to 29.4 percent in 1991-92 and recorded at 14 per cent in 2011. Traditionally, farming work is based on castes. Farming maintains the caste identities of various groups. Agricultural crisis depict the mental status of certain castes.
After Independence, rectifying the internal social contradictions has been the greatest challenge for Bharat. All over the world many countries accept the importance of ‘affirmative action’. They are not linked only to education but also to programmes for housing, health and employability. Such affirmative programmes are undertaken in many countries including the US, South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil etc. They have delivered positive results.
Social research indicate that in the US blacks entering educations of higher learning with lesser numbers or grades have performed much better than their white counterparts over a period of time. They are also more active in social life. In the context of Bharat, while analysing the National Sample Survey Date from 1983 to 2005, scholars Viktoria Hnatkovska, Amartya Lahiri and Saurabh B Paul have proved that Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) have improved their performance.
In our system, responsibility of protecting public interest is with the legislature. Therefore, the ball is in the Court of political parties. There are many unanswered questions pertaining to caste. For instance, how long a particular group or class will be considered as socially and educationally backward? If not the whole class, can some section of that group be excluded from reservation benefit? This has been the logic behind the concept of creamy layer. It is the responsibility of the executive and legislature to separate this creamy layer. In the light of these facts, it would be appropriate to analyse the policy of reservation with integral perspective.
Pramod Joshi (The writer is former Resident Editor, Hindustan)