I fail to understand the fear of the opposition OBC MPs over the newly minted National Commission for socially & educationally backward classes. I think NSEBC is an improvement over NCBC. NSEBC has constitutional status, it has widened the ambit of reservation as per the ethos behind the constitutional provision that reservation can only be given on the basis of social and educational backwardness. Till now, we have only tackled the social backwardness aspect and that too interpreting this aspect narrowly, with caste being the only determinant; it is surprising why the educational backwardness aspect was not on the radar?
The nation has been torn apart over the vexed issue of reservation. The Jats, Kapus, Marathas and Patels- all of them are dominant prosperous communities but from the educational point of view, they lag behind the upper castes. Their exclusion from globalization process & public employment and the pathetic state of agriculture are taking a toll on them and hence their protests. NSEBC has the power to include or exclude castes from the OBC list. Hopefully, educational backwardness may lead to the intermediate castes finding their way into OBC list. Most of the regional parties depend on rabid caste politics to survive and hence, the curtailment of the power of state governments to notify castes as backwards is a welcome development. 70 years of reservation should have seen lessening of demand for it but just the reverse has happened in India; there is something intrinsically wrong in intent. However, despite all hue & cry, the mother cause behind backwardness as defined today in 21st century globalized digitalized world, has failed to find acceptance. Whether it’s your educational attainment or social status, your economic status matters a lot. OBC reservation has an income ceiling limit, a bit of departure from caste centrality.
There is a fundamental difference between OBC reservation and Dalit reservation. Dalit reservation was for a specific category of citizens that faced historical suppression and exclusion. They were broken and dispossessed from land. They had to be brought into mainstream, it was more about representation (the soul behind Poona Pact) and not poverty. Now take OBC reservation. Many OBC communities were landed and prosperous; in fact, they were also ruling dynasties in some places. No exclusion…no caste atrocities on them as they were muscled. A group comprising between 40 to 45 percent of the population does not need reservation to ensure representation, many state governments are formed on their strength. Mandal reservation was for political hegemony, Ambedkar’s reservation was for social transformation. Mandal has legitimized claims of many communities (deserving and non deserving) to reservation and opened a Pandora’s box.
NSEBC should take Socio economic and Caste Census 2011 into account and prepare a deprivation index clubbing together social, educational and economic factors to make OBC reservation more rational. It’s not about caste but backward classes as defined in provision. Caste may be the sole yardstick for dalit reservation but for OBC reservation, a multitude of factors must be stitched together, it should not be about caste only. Reservation policy must incorporate provisions for identification of communities that have reaped disproportionate benefits and their subsequent removal from list lest the objective behind the policy is defeated. The ultimate objective of any reservation policy should be to reach the person standing at the end of the queue; for this to happen, it is essential to break the monopoly of certain castes over reservation. Only that affirmative policy can succeed in which all the social communities have stake, the criteria are secular and no community feels cheated & excluded.
As long as reservation was provided on genuine considerations, it was progressive social intervention but of late, its demand has become a tool for political mobilization and petty political ends.
Caste politics has killed public opinion. It has killed public solidarity. It has killed public charity. Unabashed use of identity politics has taken a toll on development, social harmony & nation building. NSEBC must be kept immune from pressure of political stakeholders by ensuring adequate representation of people from civil society and judiciary in its composition.