In an attempt to thwart the high tides of anti-incumbency throughout the country, in its attempt to distract the people’s attention from a massive two-day-long nationwide strike by the working class on 8-9 January, and to paralyse the opposition by flabbergasting it, the BJP-led NDA government’s cabinet gave its nod to Narendra Modi’s ‘masterstroke’ before the 2019 general election– a 10 per cent additional reservation in institutions of higher education and government jobs for candidates from “economically weaker” sections of the society, irrespective of their caste.
This sudden reservation for the “economically weaker” sections is a fanciful shell used to camouflage its real character– this is an exclusive reservation for the upper-caste, privileged Hindus from rural and urban India, who have been vocal against caste-based reservation since a long time. Though a large number of upper-caste Hindus have been traditional voters of the BJP and have subscribed to the extremist doctrine of the RSS, the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are not taking any chance before the forthcoming general elections after burning their fingers in the crucial assembly elections in five states recently.
As there is already a total reservation of 49.5 per cent seats in jobs and higher education for the Dalits (Scheduled Castes or SC), tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or ST) and the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), and as the Supreme Court has fixed the uppermost ceiling of reservation at 50 per cent in the 1992 Indira Sawhney & Others vs the Union of India case, the Modi regime is amending the Constitution’s Articles 15 and 16 that allow reservation for the SCs, STs and OBCs only on the basis of their caste.
A Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, with very minimal opposition, to amend the Constitution during the last leg of the recently-concluded Winter Session of the parliament. Most of the major parliamentary opposition parties, paralysed by this sudden strike of Narendra Modi, supported the Bill in both houses and helped in its swift passage though the government never discussed about it before.
The Paradoxical “Economically Weaker” Section of the Society
The paradox of this so-called “economically weaker” section didn’t take much time to expose itself when the definition of the category was revealed by the government. This doling out of reservation to 10 per cent of the upper-caste Hindus has a very sardonic approach in determining the beneficiaries.
According to the criteria set by the Modi government, those who earn up to Rs 800,000 per annum from agriculture or any other profession, with agricultural land holding not more than five acres, residential house below 1,000 square feet in rural areas, and in urban areas- less than 100 yards in notified municipality or residential plot less than 200 yards in the non-notified municipal areas, are considered as “economically weak”.
The official poverty line in India is around Rs 27 per day in rural areas and Rs 31 per day in urban areas. The cut-off line of Rs 800,000 per annum will mean an income of Rs 66,666 per month, i.e. Rs 2,222 per day, an amount which is 71 times more than the urban poverty line and 82 times greater than the rural poverty line. The income tax slab exempts an annual income of up to Rs 250,000 as the sub-20,000 income is considered low income group. Annual income of Rs 800,000 falls under the 20 per cent tax slab and people in this income group are considered upper-middle-class in the socio-economic parlance.
With an annual income of up to Rs 800,000, which “economically weaker” section will benefit from the newly introduced reservation criterion? Is the Modi government drawing a new poverty line at an income level of Rs 2,222 per day? Then what will happen to the income tax slab? Will the Modi regime raise the taxable income bar from Rs 250,000 per annum to Rs 800,000? Will those who live below Rs 2,222 per day will also become beneficiaries of the government’s schemes for the poor? These are questions that remain unanswered in such a complex scenario.
When the Socio-Economic Caste Survey 2011 (SECC 2011) was released in 2015, it showed that 74.49 per cent of rural households earn less than Rs 5,000 per month, 17.18 per cent rural population earn between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 per month and only 8.29 per cent of the rural population have a monthly income of more than Rs 10,000 per month. This even doesn’t give the accurate picture of how many rural households have an income that’s more than Rs 250,000 and less than Rs 800,000 a year.
But it’s clear that such an income group has a very tiny, microscopic presence in rural India. In the urban areas, they have a quantitatively larger presence and they are called the happening, mobile and aspiring ‘middle-class’ who pay ‘taxes’, EMIs, subscribe to Sangh’s version of ‘nationalism’, despise Pakistan and consider it as the root cause of poverty in India apart from Muslims. Their children generally study in medium to good ranking ‘public schools’ owned by big comprador capitalists and a lot of them are food terrorists (offended at what others eat) who love to impose their own choice on others.
They’re the subscriber of corporate media products; they are those who deny the existence of the caste
The same SECC 2011 showed that 38.27 per cent of the rural population is landless and only 25.63 per cent of the rural household own irrigated land. Owning five acres of agricultural land or a 1,000 square feet residential unit are not mundane part of the rural life. This criterion is not about the poor of rural India, the majority of the people, rather a very handful of upper-caste rural usurers and aristocratic feudal landlords. This is a move to secure these leech caste-class groups 10 per cent seats in higher education and government jobs, though these communities are over-represented in each campus of educational institutions or in each of the public and private sector workplaces.
In such circumstances, when the Modi government is picking up the most privileged section of the urban middle-class and the rural elites as “economically weak” and allowing them to avail the benefits of reservation, it’s actually mocking the really poor upper-caste Hindus and the broad masses of Dalits, tribals and OBCs.
The Economic Condition vs Caste Dichotomy
The upper-caste Hindus, who enjoy 50 per cent quota in higher education and jobs under the ‘general category’, have been demanding for a separate reservation for the “economically weaker” sections of the ‘general category’ (i.e. the upper-caste Hindus themselves) since a long time. According to them, the reservation should only consider a person’s economic condition and not their caste and identity. These Savarna, feudal and elite sections of the society have been vocal against the Constitution’s attempt to set right the historical injustice done to the ostracised and oppressed communities.
Ever since the Constitution of India started a positive discrimination by providing a very limited and tepid opportunity to the Dalits, tribals and the backward caste people to access higher education and government jobs through caste-based reservations, the upper-caste Hindu elites and urban middle-class have been extremely vocal against the system. The root of this vehement opposition has been the threat that an educated and economically independent oppressed community member poses to the Brahminical hegemony and Savarna supremacy.
If the enlightened and empowered members of the oppressed and ostracised communities start questioning the logic behind the caste-based discrimination and the source of the pride that the upper-caste men take regarding their identity, then the entire tower of caste rule, atrocities and oppression will collapse. As education and employment can help people develop their skills, learn new things and, to some extent, think critically, the frantic upper-caste Hindus don’t want the members of the Dalit communities, tribes and the OBCs to reach that realm.
Thus, to package their demand for an end to the reservation system and to snatch away the only opportunity that the oppressed communities have won and retained so far to become equal in terms of education and profession with the upper-caste hegemonists, the Savarna intellectuals have proposed the demand for reservation on the basis of ‘economic criteria’ only, since a long time. This demand became a war cry for the Savarna elitists and urban middle-class Brahminical hegemonists who joined hands with the Hindutva fascist camp led by LK Advani and AB Vajpayee during the 1989-90 Mandal Commission agitation.
The RSS has been a vocal critic of the caste-based reservation and even the Sarsanghchalak (RSS Supremo) Mohan Bhagwat called for an end to the caste-based reservation system. Loyal to its Brahminical supremacist roots, the RSS has played a crucial part in building up the propaganda against the caste-based reservation and in favour of a reservation based on economic conditions through its intellectual inputs. This propaganda found a large number of subscribers and every time there would be any anti-caste tirade, this demand for a reservation for all (read upper-caste Hindus) on the basis of ‘economic condition’ only (read that the economic condition can be manipulated as per wish) returns to the forefront.
The BJP’s Dilemma and Double-speak
Though the BJP wanted to end the caste-based reservation immediately after winning a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha election 2014, however, the compulsion of retaining Dalit, tribal and OBC votes, polarised by a plethora of Hindutva fascist affiliates of the RSS through extensive propaganda and vitriol targeting the Muslims and Christians, so that the party can sweep state assembly elections with ease, forced it to maintain a status quo regarding caste-based reservation even though the Sangh occasionally poked it over the issue. Even Narendra Modi had to assert in 2016, during the height of Dalit agitation over the Una incident, that the caste-based reservation will not be affected. The weaning of the Dalit and OBC votes in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2017 helped the BJP sweep the poll.
But maintaining the Dalit, tribal and OBC vote bank became a huge liability for the BJP and the RSS as it irked its core vote bank of upper-caste Hindus. Though the BJP and the RSS need the backward caste members and Dalits as pawns against the Muslim community, especially during communal pogroms, they get the funding and major support from the upper-caste Hindus, mostly the elite feudal landlords, rich farmers and urban elites and middle-class. It would have been a risky affair for Narendra Modi and his coterie if nothing was done to fascinate that core reactionary upper-caste Hindu vote bank.
Ever since Narendra Modi’s government had to nullify the Supreme Court’s judgement that diluted the stringent provisions of the Atrocities Against SC and ST Act, a section of the upper-caste Hindus, who were happy at the decision of the apex court and launched massive violent attacks on the agitating Dalits when they protested against the decision through a Bharat Bandh in April 2018, were irked and they distanced themselves from the Sangh gradually.
The BJP anyways couldn’t retain the Dalit, tribal or OBC support for itself for long, as these blocks gradually distanced themselves from the unapologetically Brahminical saffron camp and the BJP found itself in a dire need to lure the upper-caste elites, middle and lower-middle class Hindus. After facing a severe poll drubbing in the recently-held assembly elections in five states, the BJP felt the need of weaning back those sections of the upper-caste Hindus that became disenchanted with the Modi government’s rhetoric.
The Juxtapositioning of Economic Condition in Reservation
The plan to introduce the extra 10 per cent reservation for the upper-caste Hindus under the garb of uplifting the “economically weak” section, is not only going to help the BJP in weaning the disgruntled upper-caste Hindus, it will also become a very effective weapon to neutralise the opposition as none of the parliamentary parties, including the self-styled Dalit messiah Mayawati’s BSP, can oppose the move due to the fear of losing upper-caste Hindu votes.
Due to the shameless capitulation of the mainstream parliamentary parties before this conspiracy of the Modi regime to provide excessive benefits to the privileged upper-caste Hindus, the onus of resisting the nefarious scheme that’s trying to demolish the structure of reservation guaranteed by the Constitution falls on the very oppressed people: the Dalit, the OBC and the tribal people, who form more than 90 per cent of Indian poor. It’s they who are going to lose their constitutional rights due to this recent onslaught on the caste-based reservation by the accommodation of upper-caste privileged Hindus in the appealing package of “economic weakness”.
Though the RSS and the BJP will keep trying to obliterate facts, it must not be forgotten that caste-based reservation wasn’t introduced to alleviate poverty or to economically uplift the members of the oppressed and marginalised communities (non-Hindus like Muslims and Christians have been deprived of reservation despite their poor economic condition). The reservation was meant to set right the historical injustice meted out to the sufferers of the caste system, it was introduced to exterminate the ill-effects of the caste system that deprives a large number of people from their constitutional rights due to their immediate identity.
This attempt by the Modi regime to amend the Constitution’s Articles 15 and 16 can draw judicial wrath as well. Justice (Retd) Ahmadi, one of the members of the nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that delivered the landmark order on reservation in a 6:3 verdict, was quoted by the Indian Express as saying “Economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for determining the backward class of citizens contemplated by Article 16 of the Constitution”.
The Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench said “Economic backwardness may give jurisdiction to state to reserve provided it can find out mechanism to ascertain inadequacy of representation of such class. But such group or collectivity does not fall under Article 16 (1)”.
Introduced in a haste, this Bill didn’t take any legal inputs from experts or even the views of the Attorney General. It’s susceptible to
The Deplorable Scenario of Reservation and Social Justice
The real scenario of reservation narrates a shocking tale of gross violation of Constitution-guaranteed rights of the oppressed communities. Though many OBCs have achieved higher education and employment opportunities through the caste-based reservation system, very few Dalits and tribals could even reach the doorsteps of higher education or government jobs.
A minuscule presence of the Dalits and tribal people in the formal workforce of the country is a sign that the upper-castes haven’t lowered the barricades to allow the Dalits and the tribal people come out of the shadow of caste oppression and exploitation. A Hindustan Times story on how the Dalits are at the receiving end of the unemployment problem, shows how the proportion of Dalit unemployed is higher than OBCs or upper-caste Hindus.
The caste issue is an identity issue and can’t be sorted overnight, as the upper-caste ruling clique will not relinquish power or their privileges voluntarily. Now that reservation will be enjoyed by the upper-caste Hindus, who until now had 50 per cent of reservation through the general quota, 90 per cent domination in the private sector and absolute monopoly over all government jobs, the poor and oppressed Dalits, tribal and backward castes will be pushed to the verge of destitution. The ratio will gradually increase and at a crucial hour, the Modi regime and the RSS will blow the bugle to announce a final assault on the caste-based reservation, one of the few vestiges of a welfare state that the clique headed by Narendra Modi is trying to raze.
The Task of Resistance
To stop this catastrophe, the marginalised communities must come ahead and initiate a nationwide mass movement against the assault by the upper-caste Hindu elites and their lackey the Hindutva fascist BJP and RSS.
If they fail to stop the government from introducing 10 per cent reservation for the so-called “economically weaker” section, then the last hope of a regular, exploited, oppressed and abused Dalit, tribal or OBC to have higher education or to get an employment opportunity, will be flushed down the drain of history.
It’s a ‘resist now or never‘ moment for the huge army of rural and urban poor of India, the majority of whom are those from the marginalised and oppressed communities. It’s time for them to rewrite history by stopping the Modi regime from allocating 10 per cent reservation to the so-called “economically weaker” section.