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Now Reservation For Forwards

By Maanvender Singh

30 April, 2016

The cauldron on the Jat agitation was not even silenced and the
Gujarat government has decided to extend reservation on economic basis
for the upper castes. In both the cases, the argument is in favour of
reservation for the forward or the dominant castes on the fallacious
grounds of economic status.

In India no policy issue has generated such controversy as the
extension of reservation beyond SCs and STs in educational
institutions and services. However, as much as has been the
disagreement over the criteria of backwardness, the forward castes
were always kept out of the bracket of such policies. Going against
this, the State Government of Gujarat has passed a law that provides
10% of reservation for all non- reserved categories based on their
annual income. The 10% quota will be available for those whose income
is Rs. 6 Lakh or less than that. This is clearly a violation of the
basic spirit of the Constitutional scheme, and is against the
principle of affirmative action as laid under Article 15(4) and 16(4)
of the constitution. Moreover, there is no such provision in Indian
constitution that approves of reservation for the upper castes.

However, this is not the first time that BJP has made an attempt to
intrude the much forward communities into the scheme of reservation.
This process was initiated by Atal Bihari Vajepyee in 1999 by
including Jats in Rajasthan to the list of backward classes, causing
the first invasion of dominant caste to the scheme of reservation.
Infact over the last one year, this is the third BJP- led state
government that has provided reservation to much forward communities.

It started last year in September with Rajasthan government
introducing 14% reservation to Economically Backward Classes (EBC) and
5% for the Special Backward Classes (that included Gujars), than Jat
quota in Haryana and now reservation for the general category in
Gujarat. As far as Gujarat is concerned, BJP actions comes after their
debacle in Panchayat elections and what might seems to be an attempt
to win back the confidence of Patel community, one should expect more
absurdity. The other parties are expected to join the course soon;
already Congress has raised the demand to increase the EBC quota to

On the other hand the order is bound to be taken to court and if
judged by the law, as declared in the Indra Sawhney judgment, will
hardly stand the test of law. The Gujarat government may seek to place
this law in the Ninth Schedule to ensure that the constitutional
validity of the amended provision is not struck down. However, laws
placed in Ninth Schedule after 1973 can still be challenged on grounds
of violating basic structure of constitution and this indeed is
distinctly possible in the present instance too. Further such
independent decisions by state government also challenge the validity
of institutions like National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBCs)
which was established after the Indra Swahney judgment to monitor the
list of backward classes and the possible cases of exclusion and

However, the more immediate agenda here seems to distort the scheme of
reservation by creating farce criteria and to further project it as an
alternative to the caste based reservation. Therefore such knee-jerk
legislation attempts to dissociate reservation from its original logic
and intent that is to dismantle the monopoly of few among services and
educational instituion. To do so backwardness is projected as a
relative concept, where the shoddier condition of castes/communities
in relation to more forward one becomes the criteria for enlisting
them to the backward caste list. Totally undermining the fact that
caste/community in concern has to qualify certain set of parameters,
such as established by the Mandal Commission Report and it is only
those which are well below the average, can be listed as backward
classes. More importantly such understanding projects poverty as the
basis of reservation, conflating the issue of discrimination (caste
based) with the deprivation (economic). And even though it is true
that poverty can lead to various forms of deprivation, a policy like
reservation which targets only the issue of institutional
backwardness, cannot be projected as the poverty eradication programme
or as an alternative to already exiting polices to tackle poverty. But
as the state has considerably failed to tackle the issue of economic
stagnation it seems suitable for them to promote reservation as a pro-
poor policy.

Even in this case, realizing that the balloon of ‘Gujarat model’ is
punctured, now reservation is presented as the solution to settle down
those who might pose a challenge to Modi. For this Amit Shah was
dispatched to devise possible solution and as true lieutenant of the
Hinduvadi agenda, he has acted in the interest of upper castes. In all
this, one should not forget the fact that Patel’s who are now
declaring themselves as backward, spearheaded on of the most violent
anti –reservation campaign in 1980s. Also it is a documented fact that
back in 1990 both the Sangh parivar and BJP were at the forefront of
anti- Mandal agitation, declaring reservation policy as divisive and
anti- national. Infact BJP-RSS started the political project of
wielding those who were opposed to the affirmative action to the
party. This was conveniently done through the project of Hindutava.
Therefore there stands to be a reason that there is a possible
alliance between Patidar and BJP to ensure that progress of lower
caste is checked and the caste hierarchy is maintained.

In the end as all this political drama surrounding reservation is
unrevealed in Gujarat it is quite agonizing to see that reservation,
once meant to break the power structure dominated by high caste and
wealthy people, is reduced as a political gimmick to accommodate any
agitating caste, irrespective of its place in the social hierarchy. On
the one hand, such measures take us back to the early years of
independence where caste (historically discriminated) based
reservation was rejected for economic criteria and on the other, it
seems to be a part of larger conspiracy, to limit the debate along
social justice to the affirmative action. So much so, a web of
illusion is woven around the reservation policies to project it, as
not a part but the only way to achieve social justice. And once you
can prove that the purpose of reservation is fulfilled, as enough jobs
are created for SCs and STs, one can easily raise the rhetoric of
economic disparities well detached from the caste and other social

Maanvender Singh, is PhD Scholar, Department of History,



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