File photo of the Constitution of India | Commons
File photo of the Constitution of India | Commons
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The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Seventh Amendment) Bill 2021, popularly known as the OBC Bill which ‘seeks to create history’ was unanimously passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Bill was passed with 385 members voting in support and no member opposing it. Very few Bills, like the GST Bill or those seeking a hike in MPs’ emoluments, are usually passed unanimously by both Houses.

Nearly 65 years ago in Maharashtra, in 1956, under the leadership of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, more than five lakh people, categorised as ‘Dalits’ and considered ‘untouchable’, broke the shackles of the caste system among Hindus.

Sixty-five years later, Maharashtra once again became the cause for another historic step in creating ‘more backward classes’, thus defeating the very purpose of reservation so passionately advocated by the messiah of the oppressed people, Dr Ambedkar.

The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, was held as unconstitutional because it violated the 1992 Supreme Court order that put a cap of 50 per cent on reservation. In 2019 the Bombay High Court upheld the SEBC Act, now popular as ‘Maratha Reservation Bill’, but suggested a quota to be fixed at 12 or 13 per cent so that the threshold limit of 50 per cent is breached only in exceptional circumstances. The constitutional bench of the Supreme Court differed with the 2019 verdict, saying, “We have found that no extraordinary circumstances were made out in granting separate reservation of Maratha Community by exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling limit of reservation. The Act, 2018 violates the principle of equality as enshrined in Article 16. The exceeding of ceiling limit without there being any exceptional circumstances clearly violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution which makes the enactment ultra vires”.

Now, in a state where a political fortune greatly hinges on the support of the single-largest and well-organised Maratha community, the Supreme Court’s verdict, however logical, puts every political party on alert. And hence the ‘OBC Bill’, which according to the minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, will help 671 communities, that is, almost one-fifth of the total OBCs in the country.

By normal standards, declaring half of a country’s population as backwards after 75 years of Independence is not something to pat oneself on the back for. But ironically, politics in India is a queer game where politicians promise to eradicate poverty, promise equality and swear by progress while constantly endeavouring to create more backward classes.

Even more bizarre is the fact that a community which boasts of having as many as 15 out of 18 chief ministers in Maharashtra seeks ‘backward status’. This is the power of the largesse that accrues due to reservation, which guarantees extra power and authority to the holder of that tag.

Also read: Reactions to OBC medical quota are exposing Indians’ flawed merit argument all over again

RSS’ integration conundrum

Meanwhile, the Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had earlier said that “those who favour reservation should speak keeping in mind the interests of those who are against it, and similarly those who oppose it should do the vice-versa”. The RSS, founded in 1925, recognising the need to correct the social anomaly and the scourge of untouchability, has been tirelessly working towards this cause through Hindu unity and national integration. It must be a painful reality then for the RSS to admit that the need for reservation still exists.

Extending his support to the OBC Bill, the Sar Karyavah (general secretary) of the RSS has reiterated the views of the organisation on the issue of reservation and said that “reservation is a tool for affirmative action and should continue as long as a particular section of the society experiences ‘inequality’.” Do we have a socially acceptable and scientifically calibrated barometer to measure “inequality” and determine the extent of “oppression”? If it is a perception which is not measurable in scientific terms, then it is yet another sad reality that 75 years after Independence and 95 years of hard work of the RSS has not been able to clear that perception.

“Social harmony and social justice are not political strategies for us (RSS) and both of these are articles of faith for us,” the RSS leader has said.

But the undeniable fact, which even the RSS is aware of, is that for the political class, creation of ‘backward classes’ has become a handy tool to forge vote banks and win elections. Successive governments, both at the Centre and the states, have spent crores on the eradication of poverty and providing social justice. During the debates on the inclusion of the word ‘backward class’ in the Article 16(4) for reservation, many members had allayed the fears of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes that their rights will not be compromised with.

Even Dr Ambedkar had argued that political reservation (in Parliament and assemblies) should not continue beyond ten years, and was against a large number of seats being included in the reservation category as that could be challenged in court on the ground “that the rule regarding equality of opportunity has been destroyed”.

While the intent behind reservation cannot be doubted, there is always a need to publicly debate the shortcomings of such a provision. A consensus on putting a cut-off date to this provision would be the real tribute to the founders of our Constitution.

The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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