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Thursday, 24 March 2016 00:00
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The RSS is right and the PM wrong on reservations


Given there are four state and one UT assembly elections coming up, and how theBJP’s fortunes in Bihar took a hit after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statements against reservations, it is not surprising prime minister Narendra Modi used his Ambedkar Memorial lecture to reiterate he had no intentions of doing away with reservations. This, of course, was a reaction to RSS general secretary Suresh Joshi’s statement that it was time to re-look quota benefits and to see whether the really deserving were getting them. While Joshi did not make any specific allusion to the Jat agitation in Haryana, it is obvious he had them in mind since it is difficult to see how such a prosperous community can be included in the list – if reservation benefits are given on the basis of economic backwardness, as the RSS seems to be suggesting, it is likely a sizeable proportion of Muslims will also qualify for it.

With government jobs paying two to three times what the private sector does for lower-end jobs—apart from the obvious job security and the minuscule pressure to actually work—and education being a key determinant of prosperity, even prosperous communities will ask for reservations in future since not all members are equally prosperous. According to PRICE’s ICE 360o survey for FY14, an SC household headed by an illiterate person earned Rs 69,000 per annum and this rose to Rs 289,000 when the SC household was headed by a graduate—put another way, while an upper caste household headed by an illiterate earned more than a similarly uneducated SC household (generally seen as ‘evidence’ of discrimination), it earned Rs 10,000 per annum less than an SC household headed by someone who had studied till even primary school. Other parameters, like moving from rural to urban areas, also result in higher incomes, but education is the biggest differentiator—that is why Jat and Hardik Patel-type agitations can only increase in the future. If the government is to keep its word in the case of the Jats, this will fall foul of the Supreme Court-mandated reservation levels—so like it or not, Modi will have to confront the reservations issue sooner rather than later.

Should he want to do so, data makes it clear reservations are not the answer since the problem lies elsewhere. In the case of SCs, for instance, while they comprise 19% of the population, they account for only 15% of supervisor/executive jobs in the ICE survey. But before you argue discrimination, this is because SCs account for just 15% of those graduating from college—since SCs comprise 28% of those enrolled in Class IV and below, it is obvious the problem lies in high drop-out ratios in school; the situation is similar across most caste groups. While the status quo on reservations is also creating its own problems in terms of bloody agitations like that of the Jats, Modi must be aware of the havoc this is wreaking on India’s education system as well in the quality of governance—you cannot hope to run a top-class college or, say a municipal corporation, if staffers are appointed and promoted on the basis of their caste and not merit. Indeed, it is difficult to see how Modi hopes to free up 10 public universities and make them world-class if they are to remain under the yoke of reservations. There is a fundamental conflict here that the PM is choosing to ignore.


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