One explanation for the high decibel levels around the government’s decision on 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward sections is that most opposition parties did not factor in the quota issue in their political strategy to take on the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Front (NDA) in the next Lok Sabha elections. In other words, they were caught by surprise. Even the main beneficiaries with annual income below Rs eight lakh may not have expected this unusually big bonanza announced abruptly on the penultimate day of the Parliament session. The Congress party only questioned the timing of the announcement and the government’s ability to muster support in the Rajya Sabha. But, it couldn’t possibly have opposed the move as it had promised reservations for poor families in forward castes as part of its 2014 election manifesto.
Grudging support extended by Congress to the move perhaps manifests its fears on the political fallout that the announcement will have. Extension of Rajya Sabha’s work by a day was also intended at either daring the opposition to stall the bill and face the consequences with the electorate or get it adopted. Needless to say the government’s latest quota move carries a deep political message. From Jats, Marathas and Patidars to Kapus, most forward castes seeking reservation for poorer families within their communities will have to think twice before voting against the BJP or abandoning the NDA. Getting three fourth legislative assemblies to adopt the reservations bill would be a challenge but doable given that the Congress will not oppose the move per se. The biggest hurdle, though, could be the Supreme Court that may not recognise poverty as the basis for jobs and education quotas.
Glimmer of hope for NDA could be that cut off at 50 percent for caste-based reservations may not come in the way as quotas for poor were based on economic impoverishment or inability to compete and prosper.
Some analysts termed the announcement on 10 per cent jobs and education quota for poor families as “cynical” or “retrograde” in nature. The announcement also appears to have come as a bolt from the blue for Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati. Following their recent alliance, they had hoped to score big in the Uttar Pradesh polls after successes in Gorakhpur and Phulpur last year and transgressing into BJP vote bank. The Modi government could well have put a spanner in the works with the decision on quotas. Though both parties thrived on caste combinations, they have come out openly to oppose the move.
There are questions whether the proposed reservations have an economic rationale. This would depend on how sincerely reservations were implemented in a welfare-oriented, social and democratic federal country like India.
If the creamy layer within the backward classes were to be identified and taken out of the reservations bracket, why should that not be attempted in both scheduled castes and tribes? Innovation in implementing reservations will have to be thought out as an instrument to fight poverty.