For how long will our nation continue to engage in the most brazen hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty related to the subject of job quotas assigned to backward classes? The current occasion is the Maharashtra government’s decision prior elections to reserve a job quota for members of the powerful Maratha community as well as a smaller quota for the Muslim community. That does not at this point of time concern this writer. If Yadavs can get job quotas and Jats can demand them why should not Marathas get quotas? One is waiting for the day when the Brahmins demand quotas on grounds of being backward. We are after all a nation of people simply itching to become backward. The policies of successive governments and the goals set by communities through the years testify to that truth.
What causes immediate concern is the criticism repeated parrot like by various segments of the political class and the media that the Muslims cannot get reservation because the Constitution debars quotas granted on the basis of religion. Does it?
For the last time attention is drawn to the provisions of the Constitution related to this issue. Currently job and education quotas are granted to several castes listed in the category of Other Backward Classes (OBC). There are two Clauses of Article 16 of the Constitution that enables this.
Article 16 (2) states:
“No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex. Descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any office or employment under the State.”
Article 16 (4) of the Constitution states:
“Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointment or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services of the State.”
Utilizing Article 16 (4) by resorting to a very dubious process the government overcame the provisions of Article 16 (2) disallowing discrimination on the basis of caste to allow various castes to get reservation in the OBC category. The same process can be adopted to grant reservation to members of communities based upon religion, gender or even location of residence, such as people of the Northeast. Therefore the oft repeated objection that the Constitution does not allow reservation on the basis of religion makes no sense.
Either Muslims have a right to job quotas. Or all castes enjoying reservation under the OBC category do not. It is shameless doublethink to pretend otherwise.
The obvious solution that would really help forge a modern national identity would be of course to scrap quotas for all castes and grant reservation only on the basis of economic criteria. But to implement that policy requires a genuinely strong government unmindful of temporarily displeasing some vote banks. Do we have that government?