ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The Emergence of New Reservationists

Fresh demands for reservation should also include the demand for more job creation.


The growing countrywide demand for the inclusion of new castes in the reservation quotas has entered an interesting phase. It seeks to disabuse the reservation policy of its stigmatisation by its opponents. At the same time, it has forced some of these diehard opponents to shift their focus of criticism from institutional well-being to the more abstract level

of the nation. A few decades ago, these opponents sought to stigmatise the reservation principle by deploying a morally ­offensive language to describe its beneficiaries, more particularly the Scheduled Castes (SCs), as the “sons-in-law” of the government (implying that they were an unreasonably pampered lot), “enemies of merit” and “stumbling block for efficient functioning.” Thus, the target of such malicious critiques was specifically a concrete social group. The opponents used public good such as institutional well-being as the pretext to express their hate and anger against a particular group rather than ­reservation itself. Interestingly, if not deceptively, the assumption behind this slur was not a particular person or a group of persons, but the concern for institutional well-being. Put differently, such criticism suggested that merit and efficiency could be restored in public institutions without reservation. Thus, during the anti-Mandal agitation, the morally offensive language that sought to stigmatise the reservation policy formed a part of “caste common sense.”

Today, in the wake of the growing demand for reservation across several castes, these opponents in their public expression seem to be underplaying at least some words like “merit” and “efficiency.” However, at the subterranean level or even on social media, the language against reservation continues to remain quite vicious. It must be noted that the opposition to quota is less on grounds of merit and efficiency, and more on those of integration of society and development of the nation. Their ­argument against the growing demands springs from the concern that caste reservation will perpetuate casteism rather than annihilate it. However, the question that one has to address is why the opponents adopt a sceptical attitude towards notions of merit and efficiency that are now underplayed.

Institutions themselves are facing a crisis of recruitment. First, recruitment to government jobs is hardly taking place and whatever there is, is dominated by ideology rather than merit under the present dispensation. Second, those who considered reservation as antithetical to the institutional good based on values such as merit and efficiency now see these values embedded in reservation. Such acknowledgement of values should be read together with the demand for reservation. The new turn in the discourse on reservation has helped us separate the principle of reservation from the stigma that was attached to the SCs. This could be seen as a gain since it is satisfying to see that the ­democratisation of the demand for reservation would neutralise the harsh and malicious ire against the system of reservation. And some may think it a welcome development in terms of ­easing out the social tension that seems to be active among ­several caste groups in India. However, such demands that are made against the government do not seem to effectively pressurise that particular government to take concrete steps towards the actualisation of these demands.

The caste- and community-driven mobilisation for the inclusion of these social groups in reservation should not immediately worry the respective governments as such mobilisations are geared more towards getting jobs through the reservation route rather than raising the more fundamental demand for creating more jobs. The absence of such a basic demand creates the manoeuvring space for those governments facing the agitation to make promises or drag their feet on the issue by using judicial positions. Ironically, it is the direction of the agitation that seems to create such an opportunity for the governments to play around the issues without offering any concrete solution to the problems. Thus, governments can take varying positions that range between the realm of possibility and impossibility. For example, the Maharashtra government is publicly promising 16% reservation to the Marathas, and at the same time adding a caveat to it by bringing in the court injunctions that work in ­favour of the government in question as a pacemaker. The new reservationist groups from different states do not seem to be completely focused on the need to pressurise the government to create more jobs. Such mobilisations should, to begin with, bring necessary pressure on the government to at least fill the existing 24 lakh government vacancies that exist at various levels.

Instead, the demand for inclusion in reservation brings enormous pressure of aspiration only on one single sphere of opportunity. Those who are from the cultivating castes such as Jats, Gujjars from North India, Patidars, Marathas from the western part and Kapus from the South do not seem to find ­agricultural activities a worthwhile option and have increasingly taken to education only to find that they are the late­comers to the opportunities which either do not exist or exist in a few numbers. The new reservationists are expected to ­simultaneously put pressure on the government to create more jobs. It is needless to mention that the realisation of reservation benefits becomes intelligible in the context of the real opportunity for jobs. Real opportunities would come in the creation of more ­decent job opportunities.

Updated On : 6th Sep, 2018


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