Events That Changed Destiny of Nation: XI

Implementation of Mandal Commission Report in 1990

Continued from "The Kargil War of 1999"

Making provision of the caste based reservation in the Indian Constitution was intended for protecting the oppressed classes from the caste based discrimination and providing them opportunities for the sustained development and progress. In ancient India Varna System, the society was broadly divided into four classes namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. At some stage, the Shudras along with the tribal and outcasts were placed in the category of untouchables. Also it appears that originally the Varna System was merit based and not driven by birth; and according to a postulation, Aryans were responsible for the introduction of the inheritance-based Jati (caste) system in India. Thus the Caste System is most probably a distortion of the ancient Varna system, yet when and how so many castes and sub-castes evolved and diversified in India is still not clear.

Apparently, the Aryans introduced the System as a distinct and effective method of controlling the local population. Consequently, more and more local people were forced to move southwards and towards the jungle and mountains in the north India. Any social mobility within different classes was not allowed, which compelled individuals born into a group to work, marry, spend lifetime and die within the same earmarked groups. This gave rise to birth based Caste System over a period of time. Among all the categories (Verna), the Shudras were the most disadvantageously placed with all kinds of mean or dirty jobs such as farm and machine labour, manual scavenging, cleaning dead animals, and so on. They were not even allowed to own land, money or learn to read and write. Treating them as untouchable in many cases, Shudras were not allowed to enter the cities, villages where upper-castes people lived. Thus they remained the most oppressed people of India for centuries as also the poorest and most illiterate people of India. This discrimination in the society continued even during the modern imperialist regime despite renaissance in Hindu society led by many reformers in various parts of the country.

Constitutional Changes after Independence

During the freedom struggle, the Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (more popular known as Babasaheb Ambedkar) vigorously campaigned and fought against the socio-religious and economic discrimination against the untouchables (Dalits). Gandhi even named them as Harijan (God’s people). While in Yervada Jail in September 1932, Gandhi even fasted against the segregation of the "untouchables" in the electoral arrangement proposed for the new Indian constitution and the consequent scrapping of separate electorates could be said as the beginning of the end of untouchability. Similarly, Babasaheb Ambedkar led a series of campaigns to restore the rights of the untouchables including drawing of water from the public tanks and wells. Post-independence, he was appointed the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and his draft Constitution was adopted in November 1947 with all its articles, including Article 11 that abolished untouchability in all forms.

The erstwhile untouchable class Scheduled Castes (SCs) constituted about 19 percent of the Indian population largely comprising of the landless, socially segregated, illiterate, ignorant and poor people. Scheduled Tribes (STs) roughly constitute about 9 percent of population mostly living in remote tribal areas with poor infrastructure and electricity. The other backward classes (OBCs), though educationally, economically and socially backward but not as oppressed as SCs/STs, occupy about 41 percent population while the balance 31 percent represented the upper castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas & Vaishyas). The accuracy of figures and division between the upper castes and OBCs is questionable in the absence of the caste based Census, and Mandal Commission put the latter class around 52 percent.

For the upliftment and improving the conditions of the oppressed class, the provision of reservation was made in the Constitution without explicitly mentioning any ceiling of reservation. According to Article 15(4) "Nothing in this Article or clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes." Similarly, the Article 46 provides that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

Article 15 (1) and (2) prohibit the state from discriminating citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. Then Article 15 (3) empowers the state to make special provisions for the women and children while Article 15 (4) provides for the state to make any special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backwards or SC/STs. Article 16(4) allows State to make any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which is not adequately represented in the services under the State. Currently, in all central government jobs and thus funded higher education institutions, 22.5% of available seats are reserved for SCs and STs (15% for SCs, 7.5% for STs) and 27% reservation for OBCs; however, this percentage may vary from state to state with the maximum reservation pegged at 49.5% by the Supreme Court. Some states have gone beyond this ceiling and such cases are pending for examination in the apex court.

Article 334 of the Constitution provides for the similar reservation of seats for the SCs and STs and the representation of the Anglo-Indian community through nomination in the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies of the States. This provision was initially made for ten years and further extended from time to time by constitutional amendments; the latest being the Ninety-fifth Amendment of the Constitution of India that extended the period of reservation in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies up to 26 January 2020. Article 335 acknowledges the claims of the SCs/STs while 'making appointments to posts and services' by the state but also states that such claims shall be consistent with the concerns of maintaining efficiency. Also Eighty-first amendment was made to the Constitution to allow the government to consider the backlog of reserved vacancies as a separate and distinct group without the ceiling of 50 per cent.

Background of Mandal Commission Implementation

The reservation for the SCs/STs in the government jobs, educational institutions, Parliament and Legislative Assemblies was taken equally with ease by the political parties and people of India. However, the saga of the subsequent reservation in India is a tale of political ambition, one-up-man ship, despondency and fibrosis of social tension. In view of the constant issues raised by the political parties and pressure groups, the Janata Party government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai had constituted Mandal Commission in January 1979 with a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes of India". The Commission was headed by Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal, the former Chief Minister of Bihar. The report became politically contentious due to many ambiguities and shortcomings and remained in deep freeze for almost next 10 years during the Congress regimes of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

After 1989 General Elections, the National Front headed by Viswanath Pratap Singh came in power at Centre with an electoral understanding with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties; both the opposite factions decided to support the government from outside. VP Singh could hold the office for less than a year from 2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990 in the minority government on a tightrope between the two allies of opposite ideologies and his own ambitious colleagues in the National Front. Thus under tremendous pressure from all side including his own aggressive Deputy Devi Lal, Singh took out the Mandal Commission report from hibernation and surprised his baiters, opponents and people at large by announcing its implementation on his Independence Day address from the Red Fort.

The Mandal Commission report was under controversy and severe criticism for many anomalies. One serious anomaly was that it was based on a 1931 census while India was still under the British rule. The report was also criticized by many because it had not considered the socio-political transformation undergone over the decades among certain communities, for instance, the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who had become politically and socially quite powerful during the period. Singh was criticized by many for opportunism and indeed it was a smart move to split the rapidly rising BJP's Hindu vote bank too along caste lines. Thus hastily implemented Mandal Commission report led to deep socio-political fissures along the caste liners. After the announcement, protests and agitations continued for almost month leading to destruction of public property and group clashes involving students, teachers and government employees all over the country. Following the unrest in the country, a temporary stay order was granted by the Supreme Court but finally it was implemented in 1993 by the government.

To understand the former Prime Minister VP Singh, his action and moves, one may have to go a little farther in the past. Hailing from the royal family of Manda, Congress leader VP Singh was a very honest and competent politician. He was the Finance Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi while he strongly favoured reduction in government regulation of business and acted decisively against the tax evaders and gold smugglers. Following a number of high-profile raids on suspected tax evaders that included prominent names like Dhirubhai Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan, Rajiv Gandhi took away his finance portfolio but considering his stature and popularity appointed him as Defence Minister in January 1987. Soon the infamous Bofors Scandal and kickbacks in the HDW submarine deal flared up and Singh began to investigate the murky world of defence procurement. However, before he could decisively act, he was dismissed from the Cabinet. Consequently, he resigned from the Congress party and floated his own party named “Jan Morcha”. Subsequently, several like-minded parties like Janta Party, Jan Morcha, Lok Dal, Congress(S) merged together to form Janta Dal that constituted the National Front with other regional parties to fight against the Congress.

Criteria, Coverage and Beneficiaries

Established in January 1979, the Mandal Commission was mandated to examine the question of reservations for people to identify the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on the basis of the caste, economic and social parameters. The Commission used eleven social, economic and educational parameters to determine backwardness of the people. In the absence of absolutely reliable data based on any past study with credible methodology and indices, precise information on castes and their social and economic status was not available to the Commission. However, the Commission based on its rationale and extensive studies estimated that a total of 3,743* castes and communities belonged to OBCs comprising of an estimated 52% population. In their report submitted in December 1980, the Commission recommended 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs in the services and jobs of the Central Government and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).

(*The number of OBCs had increased to over 5,000 as per the National Commission for Backward Classes by 2006. The Commission is now proposed to be dissolved to create the National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (NCSEBC) as a constitutional body.)

Applying their wisdom in collecting necessary evidence and data, the following eleven criteria were followed by the Commission under the social, educational and economic headings:

Social Criteria:

(i) Castes/classes considered as backward in the society.
(ii) Castes/classes that depended chiefly on manual labour for their livelihood.
(iii) Castes/classes where minimum 25 percent females and 10 percent males got married below the age of 17 years in rural areas and 10 percent females and 5 percent males in urban establishments.
(iv) Castes/classes comprising of at least 25 percent females workers above the state average.

Educational Criteria:

(v) Castes/classes where the number of children in the age group of 5–15 years who never attended school was at least 25 percent above the state average.
(vi) Castes/classes when the rate of student drop-out in the age group of 5–15 years was at least 25 percent above the state average.
(vii) Castes/classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 percent below the state average.

Economic Criteria:

(viii) Castes/classes where the average value of family assets was at least 25 percent below the state average.
(ix) Castes/classes where the number of families living in kuchcha (mud) houses was at least 25 percent above the state average.
(x) Castes/classes where the source of drinking water was beyond half a kilometer for more than 50 percent of the households.
(xi) Castes/classes where the number of households having taken consumption loans was a minimum 25 percent above the state average.

As all the three criteria were not considered of same importance, the Commission gave them a separate weightage for computing backwardness. Thus the Social parameters were given a weightage of 3 points each, the educational parameters were given 2 points each and economic parameters 1 point each. Economic criteria was considered relevant and important because it directly came from the social and educational backwardness. The Commission evaluated castes/classes on a scale from 0 to 22 on the above parameters and all castes/classes that scored at least 50 per cent were listed as OBCs.

As the caste-wise population was not available, the commission utilized British India census data of 1931 to work out OBCs and their percentage. The Commission concluded that 52 percent of the country's population comprised of OBCs. The Commission was of view that reservation in public jobs and services should be commensurate with their population percentage but recommendations were pegged to 27 percent keeping in view the Supreme Court’s judgment that put a limit to the reservation of posts below 50 percent. Thus when this 27 percent is added to 22.5 percent earlier allocated to the SCs/STs, it remains below 50 per cent at a cumulative figure of 49.5.

By the time the report was submitted, the Janta Dal government had already fallen and two successive Congress governments did not act on this. The report was accepted by the National Front government under VP Singh in August 1990 when it categorically announced its decision to provide reservation to the socially and educationally backward classes for the jobs in Central Services and PSUs and Singh reiterated it in his address to the nation in the Republic Day speech from the Red Fort. However, the constitutional validity of the government order was challenged through a petition in September in the Supreme Court. The main grounds quoted were that the said reservation violated the constitutional guarantee of equal opportunities and that caste was not a reliable indicator of the backwardness and such an arrangement may put the efficiency in public institution at risk. The five-judge bench stayed the operation of the government order till its disposal of the case. The apex court, however, upheld the government order in their judgment on 16 November 1992 removing all hurdles in its implementation.

Social Justice or Political Stratagem?

It indeed remains a contentious million dollar question whether the decision to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission was done with a genuine desire of doing social justice to the socially and educationally backward classes or with the express desire to woo voters of a large chunk of the Indian society with a political agenda in mind. The report was submitted towards the fag end of 1980 when Indira Gandhi was already back in power after fall of the Janta government with a huge mandate. Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister following her assassination by her own security guards on 31 October 1984 after the Operation Bluestar and remained in power till 2 December 1989. During all these years, the two Congress governments did not take any action on the report; reportedly, Rajiv Gandhi even told a colleague once – “The Mandal Commission’s report is a can of worms, and I am not going to open it.”

VP Singh was a devoted congress leader but his systematic and uncompromising crusade against corruption during his stint initially as Finance Minister and then as Defence Minister invited ire of the top leadership and he was forced to leave the Congress party to pursue his own political course. He became a rallying point for the forces fighting against the Congress during the next General Election and headed a minority government from 2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990 with the outside support of BJP and Communist parties. His brief stint as prime minister was full of uncertainties, crisis, intrigue and pressures from the leaders like Chaudhary Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar within his own front and two outside allies with opposite ideologies and interests. Encouraged with the popular support on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, the BJP was interested in further consolidating their electoral base and this too caused constant discomfort to the government.

It was in these circumstances that Singh resolved to decisively act on the Mandal Commission report which was gaining dust since almost last ten years. If the earlier governments had not acted, it was not without reasons. There were many reasons behind the controversy associated with the report. As already mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, the data used in the report was based on 1931 Census during the British time and the criteria and weightage thereagainst too were not above the board. It was alleged that the first Backward Classes Commission was broad-based while the second (Mandal) Commission was on partisan lines. Of the five members on the Commission, four of them belonged to OBCs and one member from the scheduled caste community who had refused to sign the report due to his objections on many issues. Citing the examples such Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it was argued that only few classes would actually reap the maximum benefits of reservation while many still remain marginalized.

It was generally perceived that if with so many anomalies the report is implemented, it will  divide Indian society on caste lines. To a considerable extent, this apprehension and fear was proven true when a large scale opposition of the Mandal Commission Report started in the form of protests, rallies, group clashes, arson and organized violence countrywide but more pronounced in the northern states. In protest against the government decision, one student of the Deshbandhu College, Delhi, committed self-immolation in September 1990. This sparked a series of self-immolation bids by many other upper-caste college students who thought that their chances of securing a government job will be minimized now. Reportedly, approximately 200 students committed self-immolations and, of these, 62 succumbed to their burn injuries.

For weeks and days, organized rallies and demonstrations continued; students clashed with police; government buildings and properties were attacked; schools, colleges and business establishments remained closed; and several police firings to control rioting and violence claimed more than 50 lives. Notwithstanding all this, VP Singh firmly stood on his resolve to go ahead with implementation.

Irrespective of its long term implication and impact, there is no doubt that the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was a master stroke and political stratagem of VP Singh though done in haste to counter and neutralize his adversaries and baiters within and outside his government. Undoubtedly, it was a very controversial, deeply emotive, highly sensitive and potentially explosive issue; and it is beyond imagination that Singh would not be aware of this. He had many adversaries to deal with but perhaps his immediate concern was to outsmart his former deputy and present adversary Devi Lal. It indeed appeared erroneous to include in 27 percent quota certain castes/classes which were socially and educationally backward but politically quite powerful and economically well off. This position is vindicated by the fact that such categories disproportionately earned more jobs out of the earmarked quota after implementation.

However, the fact is that such government decisions could not have been implemented without parliamentary approval. The BJP was unhappy and annoyed because despite their support to the government, they were kept in dark till the last minute. Besides, they were also worried that the government’s decision would cause rift in the Hindu society. But the party leadership was also aware about the clout of the OBCs with estimated 52 percent population and its impact on the electoral politics, so they did not openly oppose it. As for the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi, they kept vehemently opposing Mandal Commission and its report as also VP Singh for his unwise decision.

The stay granted by the Supreme Court against its implementation pending their examination caused a lull for a while but the episode had already antagonized his allies within and outside the government. Possibly VP Singh also expected that some backward MPs would desert the Congress and other parties to join him but nothing of that sort happened; instead, Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar along with their supporters walked out on him. Disappointed with Singh, the BJP too had accelerated its Mandir Movement announcing a “Rath Yatra” that increasingly became a headache to the Central government. Soon a crisis precipitated in the temple town of Ayodhya, where about two dozen volunteers were killed in police firing. Consequently, the angry BJP withdrew its support ensuring the fall of VP Singh government in just eleven months.

VP Singh government took decision to make the report public and implement it but could not practically do it because it required a mandate from the Parliament and he neither had necessary numbers to support it nor he could last long enough to test it on the floor of the House. The reservation of OBCs in the government jobs was finally implemented by Narsimha Rao government in 1993 after the deck was cleared by the Supreme Court in November 1992. Notwithstanding controversies and objections, none of the major political parties dared to oppose it during the debate in the Parliament fearing the loss of massive OBC vote bank.

Transfer of Inheritance to Bonafide Successors

In the following years, the Mandal Commission Report and job quota for the OBCs was implemented across the Indian territories in all the states. Those who had opposed it tooth and nail when VP Singh announced it became silent in the Parliament, State Assemblies and in public fearing backlash of the massive electorate. Of course, VP Singh was projected as villain of the piece who was bent upon to divide the nation and Hindu society on caste lines. In fact, a prominent leader of the grand old party reportedly claimed that after Jinnah, Singh was another leader to have caused maximum damage to divide the nation. Whatever may be the truth but future political events also proved that VP Singh was not the true inheritor of the OBCs legacy.

Singh belonged to an upper caste Kshatriya community, who led the banner of the OBCs at that point of time. These events gave rise to high social and political aspirations to some dominant castes of OBCS like Yadavs and Kurmis particularly in the northern provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They were already reasonably well off as was also cautioned by the critics and skeptics of the report. The outcome of these uprisings was that one time Messiah of OBCs VP Singh was soon marginalized from the politics and new satraps from these castes/classes emerged in many states and gradually took over the leadership of the OBCs. Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh are classical examples of the emergence of the erstwhile minnows into leaders of the national stature playing politics of the OBCs. Hailing from very humble background, many of these leaders amassed personal wealth, and established strong social and political empires for self and their family members.

Appraisal in Posterity

Following the announcement of Mandal Commission, VP Singh was declared as a villain and outcast by many political parties and people among the upper castes. The Congress discredited him because of his systematic and uncompromising crusade against the corruption and this very fact also establishes his strong character and moral values. It is so often claimed that many corporate houses and businessmen provide overt and covert funding to the political parties, hence corrupt politicians are often found hesitant towards taking any action against the business houses involved in tax evasion and other unethical business principles. Perhaps this is one of the important reasons why the politics is often categorized as "cesspool" and politicians as "hypocrites".

In 1989, VP Singh had emerged as the crusade against corruption and was a rallying point for the people and political forces opposing the ruling Congress party. Even many regional parties had joined the Front with an understanding that Singh will become prime minister in the event of the coalition forming the government at the Centre. Hence he was appropriately chosen as the head of the government despite falling short of the requisite numbers of his own Morcha. In such case, the secret ambition and scheming by the leaders like Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar to dislodge him had no justification in a coalition dharma. We are all aware how Chandra Shekhar became prime minister, after VP Singh was dislodged, for a short period with the unethical support of the same Congress against which the National Front was formed only about a year back – a classic case of self-interest and opportunism in politics.

The Mandal Commission Report was submitted almost ten years back and two successive Congress governments with absolute majority did not act on this. Several anomalies were raised in the past and ten years is a long period; hence the report definitely needed a review by a Commission or an expert committee and should have not been announced in haste by accepting it in totality as VP Singh did at the time. He was under tremendous pressure from the intrigues within the own Front and the challenges faced from the right wing party supporting his government from outside. In sheer desperation, he probably used it as a political weapon to outsmart his detractors and baiters in the government and outside. Hence it will always be debatable whether a person, however honest, should put at stake larger national interests to further own political ambitions.

The report indeed proved to be a "can of worms" in the long term. Despite initial criticism and political turmoil, none of the political parties dared subsequently in the Parliament and public to speak against or point out demerits of the report fearing loss of own political ground. Reservation became a popular tool and gimmick of the politicians and social pressure groups in the following years. The country has observed numerous demands, unrest and agitation from various castes/classes and states have indeed succumbed to these tactics in some cases. In the same series, the federal government has recently decided to implement 10 percent reservation to the economically weaker people in the General category (upper caste) and the Parliament voted to amend the Constitution accordingly. Once again, despite bitter opposition and criticism of the ruling party, any major political party has not dared to oppose the relevant bill.


While making the provision of reservation in the Constitution, the basic goal of the reservation was defined to bring social and economic justice in the society with a presumption and estimate that this should be accomplished in about a decade. But nothing of that sort was achieved in ten years and the necessary provisions were repeatedly extended time and again to retain this rather discriminatory feature. The Indian society is often branded as the 'The Grand Elephant' in the world, and commensurate with the perception, the society is indeed very slow in economic and social reforms.

The Constitution also envisaged that the provision of reservation was a temporary measure to bring equality across the divergent society. Regrettably, we are nowhere to achieve this objective and, in fact, creamy layers have been formed in the reserved castes/classes which are usurping more and more such benefits increasing the division within the society, among the reserved classes and gap between the rich and poor. Instead of eliminating the class and caste stigma, these measures are in fact leading to create more fissures and acrimony among people. A mature and stable society is one which is free from any discriminatory practices and reservation; instead, political parties and greedy leaders are adding more castes/classes and percentage increase to it by resorting to cheap politics for self ephemeral and transitory gains.

Continued to "When India Launched Operation Shakti in 1998"


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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