Finally the Ministry Of Minority Affairs has won its battle to gain control of the proposed Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). The Group of Ministers (GoM) presided over by Defence Minister AK Antony concluded last Tuesday that the proposed commission should be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The tussle for control of the commission was mere eyewash to fool the public. From its very conception the commission’s fate was sealed. It had to be under the minority affairs ministry. That was the entire purpose of setting it up.
The curious provisions under which the commission will function made clear that the whole purpose of the exercise was to offer Muslims the right to reservation through the back door. The Constitution forbids reservation to be granted on the basis of religion. So what did our canny government with a keen eye cocked at its perceived vote bank do? It proposed that EOC will not entertain applications from any individual but only from groups. Nobody has explained why this should be so. The following facts make clear why it should be so.
There are already commissions to address problems of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. In addition there is also a Minority Affairs Commission to serve groups that do not fall under these categories. In its deliberations last Tuesday the GoM decided to take steps to ensure that any issues being considered by the existing commissions will not be taken up by the EOC. In other words, since no individual can appear before the EOC, and no problems affecting SC, ST or OBC can be taken up by EOC, that leaves only Muslims with opportunity to apply. So, if the Constitution has slammed the reservation front door to Muslims, why not open the back door?
The last shred of the fig leaf behind which the government hid was removed when GoM decided to let the minority affairs ministry act as the nodal administrative body to oversee the EOC’s functioning. This was to be expected. The Madhav Menon Committee was appointed to work out the structure of the EOC. Who appointed this committee? Why, the ministry of minority affairs of course. That completed the circle. According to one media report “taking the proposed commission away from the minority ministry would send a wrong signal to Muslims”. If Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is patting himself on the back for taking control of EOC, he should stop kidding himself. That decision had been taken from day one.
The irony is that in the prevailing context the Muslims fully deserve reservation. Why not give it to them by allowing entry through the front door even if that entails amending the Constitution? Backwardness cannot be determined by religion. If scavengers or sweepers change their religion do they change their standing? Should we differentiate a scavenger by his name – whether he is Jaichand, John or Javed? To recognize backwardness one does not require information about religion or caste.
Consider how the reservation policy has evolved over the years. When the Constitution was framed reservation was given to the Scheduled Castes for only ten years during which time it was expected that a proper foundation for their advancement would be laid. This was a necessary step. The Dalits suffered not just from backwardness but were subjected even to the inhuman practice of untouchability. This was the most extreme and unique form of discrimination practiced anywhere in the world. Even the black slaves in America were not untouchables. Black nannies cuddled and brought up white children.
However, reservation continues after six decades to override the original prescription of ten years. The necessary policies required to uplift Dalits, such as education, were never adequately addressed. Even today very often there are posts reserved for Dalits in Delhi which remain unfilled because there are no applicants sufficiently qualified. After six decades of reservation are Dalits satisfied with their condition? The answer will be a resounding no. Clearly the policy did not serve the purpose for which it was framed. A new approach was required.
Instead of seeking a new approach the government expanded the flawed reservation policy by subverting the Constitution.
It ignored Article 16(2) of the Constitution which forbids reservation on the basis of religion, caste, or place of birth. It included backward castes by appointing the Mandal Commission for Other Backward Classes which mixed caste with class. The SC erroneously endorsed this. This suited the politicians who got quick-fix vote banks from their castes. The politicians did succeed in empowering their respective caste members politically. But this did not help the public. The empowered politicians had a vested interest in the backwardness of their respective castes. They had merely to exercise very marginal patronage to consolidate their vote banks. The masses lived on crumbs and false promises. The politicians themselves, regardless to which caste they belonged, were co-opted in the life style of existing leaders. They continued to represent their respective castes only in name. They were in fact members of a new corrupt and venal class. It was the ruling class.
The cancer of reservation continues to spread. This was inevitable because of the absurdities and inconsistencies of the Mandal formula. Banias are backward in Bihar but forward in Delhi. Yadavs are backward in UP but forward in Haryana. If the same caste can be forward and backward in different places how can it serve as a criterion for backwardness? There are 3000 castes in India. Inevitably demands for reservation proliferated. Jats in Haryana demand reservation to catch up with their Yadav rivals who can take advantage through their relatives in UP who are deemed backward. Bihar is discovering the Maha-Dalits as a new vote bank target. Ground realities reveal that Yadavs have hogged advantages of reservation among the OBCs and the Chamars among the SC.
If the present trend continues one day surely the Brahmins and the Rajputs will also demand reservation. Surely one day the Ayyangar Brahmins and Iyer Brahmins will demand separate reservation. Surely India will divide and subdivide into thousands of competing mutually hostile groups without dispensing any economic or social advantage to the deprived poor. So do not grant reservation just to the Muslims. Grant it also to Shias and Sunnis, Sheikhs and Ansaris. When will this madness end?
India needs to scrap caste based reservation and rely on economic criteria. It needs policies for education and social development at the macro level. It does not need the Equal Opportunity Commission designed to circumvent the Constitution in the same manner as the Mandal Commission circumvented it.