Forward Quotas: Cast Away Caste
“We are creating job givers – entrepreneurs, not job-seekers. This new ecosystem will help create newer jobs," says a minister close to Modi
Sometime recently, I asked a senior Union Minister, known to enjoy PM Narendra Modi’s confidence – “what has the BJP government done towards creating more job opportunities?”
His answer was typical of this government. He said: “We are creating job givers – entrepreneurs, not job-seekers. This new ecosystem will help create newer jobs”.
This was in tune with the Modi government’s favourite narrative – that it has helped thousands through Mudra Loans; that it has shaped the Startup movement in the country; that it has created a new ministry for skilling and entrepreneurship.
That the said Minister, quoted earlier in the piece, was clueless about the Modi government’s move to introduce quotas for the economically weaker sections (read forward castes) was evident.
Even the social justice ministry was caught unawares about the move. On the day when the Cabinet took a decision to earmark 10 per cent of government jobs for upper caste poor, junior Social justice Minister, Kishan Pal Gurjar, in reply to a un-starred question in the Lok Sabha, said “there was no such move in the offing”.
Before evaluating the Modi government’s move to woo the forward castes (and, yes, the poor among Muslims, Christians too) through quotas, it’s imp to know how it looks at caste.
Talking about empowerment of the Dalits, the Modi government gave a massive push to Dalit entrepreneurship. While the idea itself predates the Modi government, its thrust on building a new era of Dalit millionaires was praiseworthy. It was said that capital annihilates caste – “so, Dalit entrepreneurship will help create a new, more social egalitarian order”.
How is the move to create more quotas (for the upper caste poor) going to end the caste system? And, was the move prompted by the reports of widespread upper caste disenchantment with the BJP in the recently-concluded Assembly elections in the heartland?
While the move may earn the BJP upper caste votes in the parliamentary elections, it runs the risk of other castes’ consolidation in favour of the Opposition alliance. More significantly, there will be renewed calls for expanded quotas for OBCs – in proportion to their population. Samajwadi Party MP Dharmendra Yadav demanded as much during the Lok Sabha debate when he said “there should be 100 per cent reservation, in keeping with caste numbers”. Sooner or later, there will be calls to make public the 2011 caste-based census findings, after which such calls will get shriller. Many have already demanded that quotas be introduced in the private sector.
Through these political games, caste identities will only become more well-entrenched. This is definitely not in keeping with our avowed commitment to a casteless and classless India.
India must become an equal opportunity player – and there are other affirmative action measures other than quotas to encourage diversity. Education, skilling, and entrepreneurship are some of the tools that can become powerful vehicles of social change.
Instead of age-old political opportunism – V P Singh too had introduced OBC quotas but had to bite the dust in the elections – Modi should have, instead, undertaken real, revolutionary social change. Our Constitution makers didn’t envisage quotas for eternity. Dalit and OBC leaders in the present dispensation should have voluntarily given up quotas. The Ram Vilas Paswans of the world certainly don’t need reservation, and they need to pass on the benefits to the real needy in the community.
Above all, it’s important to remind PM Modi what he had said in a 2013 interview. Talking as a Chief Minister, and lauding the Gujarat model of governance, he had said: “We need to create a land of opportunities, a land of plenty in stark contrast to a land of scarcity. This talk of reservations is a sheer waste of time”.
A votary of good governance, sadly, has fallen prey to realpolitik.