Globalization and migrations have led to sometimes painful fusion of diverse cultures to expand group identities. Even second generation Indians in USA or UK have acquired the identity of their place of domicile. How ironic then that India’s politicians have chosen to tread a path opposite to this global trend. They are busy dividing a common national identity into many small, competing identities. While breaking his recent fast Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that he was not working for the minority or the majority community but for all citizens. He deplored vote bank politics that were dividing society. His assertion may be dismissed as rhetoric in the light of the riots the memories of which he seeks to bury. If he means what he says about opposing vote bank politics he should declare an end to caste based reservation and limit affirmative action to using economic criteria as its basis.
|Politicians seeking votes have become prisoners of their respective vote banks. How can the system be liberated from this misconceived policy?
Modi’s observation about vote-bank politics dominating elections is vindicated by what is happening in UP. In anticipation of the forthcoming state assembly elections Chief Minister Mayawati has announced support for job and education reservation for Muslims, for Jats and for the poor among the Hindu upper castes. What about the rich Muslims? They have been rulers for centuries. The Muslim elite are no less sophisticated, educated and qualified than the Brahmins. Should they be allowed to take advantage of the proposed reservation for Muslims? The whole approach to reservation in fact is nonsensical.
If Mayawati’s announcements are implemented the Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC and ST), the Jats, the Muslims, and the poor among the forward castes would all get reservation. What remains? There are over 3000 listed castes among the OBC alone. The OBC quota is hogged by the more affluent and educated landowning Yadav and Kurmi castes. The same is true about the SC in which the more affluent and powerful Chamars have hogged reservation benefits. Resentment against such exploitation of the quota system by a few powerful castes was utilized by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the last assembly election. He created a new category of the Extreme Backward Classes (EBC). The mere dangling of this carrot worked like magic. He swept to power.
Politicians seeking votes have become prisoners of their respective vote banks. How can the system be liberated from this misconceived policy? It can be freed only by creating a political wave that sweeps aside in elections all the present caste considerations. But to create a political wave requires daring and the courage to gamble the future in pursuit of good and rational policy.
For example, what would happen if Mayawati announced an end to caste based reservation and introduced a generous common reservation quota based upon economic deprivation? And if this were accompanied by a simultaneous announcement to deliver free and compulsory primary education, whatever that might cost, to every child in the state, how would voters react? Would they reject Mayawati or return her with a thumping majority on the crest of a wave? That would only be known if and when any political leader dares to gamble the future in pursuit of what is right. If the truth is articulated effectively, will not the public respond? Politicians must decide whether or not they have faith in the innate good sense of common people.