Mr. Sharad Yadav made recently a surprising disclosure. He said that he had been let down in the past by Mr. Laloo Yadav and Mr. Nitish Kumar who both played politics of caste. Presumably at some earlier point of time Mr. Yadav failed to unite both leaders. But for such a strong votary of caste based reservations, what else did he expect? As thinking politician and an ideologue Mr. Yadav fell into that fatal trap which had ensnared both Ram Manohar Lohia and Choudhary Charan Singh. The latter in a fit of electoral miscalculation approved caste based reservation, which he had opposed always, only at the fag end of his career. Immediately after the general election he wanted to reverse his decision. Madhu Limaye dissuaded him. I was present during that party meeting. Lohia near the end of his career confided to this writer his misgiving about caste based reservation.
The confusion is created of course by equating caste with class. It is true that most backward caste people belong to the poorer backward class. But the moment reservation was granted on the basis of caste in the guise of backward class the results became quite contrary. There are over 3000 backward castes. Political mobilization and creation of vote banks arose on the basis of caste to splinter society and destroy all concept of class. There is therefore no all India identity of backward castes, whether or not under the nomenclature of Other Backward Classes (OBC). That is why while Mr. Sharad Yadav might have sought class consolidation in the name of OBC, Mr. Laloo Yadav and Mr. Nitish Kumar with their respective vote banks consolidated on the narrow basis of caste could not unite. One hopes that Mr. Sharad Yadav reflects on this aspect and takes the initiative to undo caste based reservation without abandoning affirmative action for social justice.
Mr. Narendra Modi appreciated this relationship between caste and class. He cleverly projected caste as class. Seizing Mrs. Priyanka Vadra’s remark that he was indulging in “low life” politics, he distorted this term to equate it with lower castes. The distortion was brazen of course, the efforts of Mr. Arun Jaitley and other BJP leaders to deny this notwithstanding. Mr. Modi after this distortion very cleverly stated that he belonged to a backward caste and used to sell tea, and Mrs. Vadra’s criticism was against all backward castes. By reference to selling tea Mr. Modi succeeded in equating all backward castes with a poor backward class. After all there is no special caste that sells tea. Even poor Brahmins may be tea vendors.
It was left to Miss Mayawati to expose Mr. Modi’s cleverness which she did through a clever stratagem. She said that Mr. Modi did not belong to a backward caste. She dared him to name his caste. One is sure that Miss Mayawati knows that Mr. Modi belongs to the Ghanchi caste which is the counterpart of the Teli caste in UP. This is a not very significant caste of people who by vocation extract oil. By challenging Mr. Modi to name his caste, which he has declined to do so far, Miss Mayawati knew that as soon as Mr. Modi’s caste is highlighted his class card would at once become a caste card. All castes apart from the Teli caste would lose interest in Mr. Modi’s backward caste status. That is how caste identities work at the political level. That is why Mr. Laloo Yadav and Mr. Nitish Kumar did not unite on the backward caste issue. That is why Mr. Sharad Yadav and others need to reappraise the entire caste reservation issue.
What is needed is free compulsory primary education for all children within a specified period. At the end of that period all caste based reservation should be replaced by reservation based on economic criteria. And to prevent bias against SC-ST and OBC applicants which undoubtedly exists, all selection boards for employment or education should have through reservation adequate representation of OBC , SC -ST and Minority community members. That is the rational way to end the vicious splintering and division of Indian society in the pursuit of affirmative action.