AA Edit | Reservations here to stay... but it's time to look beyond

As political discourse shifts, reservations for marginalised groups prompt broader discussions on income disparity and social inclusion

It appears that the silent consensus that existed among political parties for long about the need for reservations for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes communities in jobs and admission in educational institutions has become vocal with various wings of the Sangh Parivar coming out in the open and supporting the idea of affirmative action. It is time India as a nation started thinking about going beyond reservations to ensure that the people it wants to bring to the national mainstream are able to do so. The responsibility should not end with reservations alone.

It could be political expediency that has forced the hand of the Sangh Parivar to be openly supportive of the idea during the election campaign: it was in response to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s allegation that the BJP has set its eyes on 400 seats in the Lok Sabha to amend the Constitution and end reservations that senior BJP leader and Union home minister Amit Shah listed the quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs among the ‘Modi’s guarantees’. He said the party would not do away with them nor would it allow anyone to do so. The party wielded an absolute majority but never made any such attempt as Mr Gandhi referred to, Mr Shah pointed out. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has also made it clear that the organisation had never opposed reservations and insisted that they would continue as long as discrimination existed. He also denied the existence of a video in which he purportedly opposed reservations.

The discussion got some traction during electioneering after the leaders of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc started talking about conducting a caste census, which would also take an account of the assets that the people hold. There was also talk of redistribution of wealth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the discourse a spin, interpreting a speech of then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008 as a ploy to snatch the wealth of the people and distribute it among Muslims.

After 75 years of independence, and various measures for the uplift of the people who are on the margins, India remains a country where the top one per cent of the population holds 40 per cent of the national assets. Economic inequality is on the rise at an unprecedented rate and unemployment has been found to be the factor that most people are concerned about in the ongoing elections. However, the voter saw not much of a discussion on addressing any of these issues that hold so much weightage in India’s emergence as an economic power. It may be interesting to note that the BJP became vocal about reservations when the talk of redistribution of wealth got some prominence in the discourse initiated by the Opposition.

Reservations were envisaged as a tool to ensure that the large discriminated sections of the population get a share in the running of the nation; they were not meant as a wealth distribution mechanism. It is welcome that the idea has got universal acceptance now; the furtherance of the discussion could possibly lead to a situation where there will be consensus on the measures to be taken to arrest the widening income disparity.

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