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“The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities of good education, this includes technical education which is becoming more and more important. Everything else is a provision of some kind of crutches”, …writes Jawaharlal Nehru, first (Congress) Prime Minister of India, in his letter to Chief Ministers, on 27 June 1961. He was laying emphasis on merit based on quality in education and efficiency to build public sector or private sector. However, the framers of Indian Constitution, in their wisdom and also because of the efforts and arguments of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar granted the reservation to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs). The object of SC and ST reservation was to end the discrimination of centuries and lift them into the mainstream. First and foremost, these SC and STs categories are the backward ones. Later, it was observed in the Constitution and by the Courts that there were distinct classes of people (Other Backward classes i.e., OBCs), whose condition though not akin to SC and STs, qualifies them for reservations. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) reservation is mainly intended to remove their social and educational handicap and to secure for them adequate representation in government services. In any case, the Indian Constitution’s aspirational goal was to wipe-out ‘caste’ eventually. So therefore, whenever there is a mention of caste in the Constitution, it is only to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of caste but not to uphold and perpetuate the social construct.
The present Congress party, diluted its own principles on which it stood all these years. They joined hands with casteist parties like the JDU of Nitish Kumar, the RJD of Lalu Prasad Yadav and the SP of Mulayam/Akhilesh Yadav in seeking a caste-based census throughout India. This is all, they say for social justice or equality I.e. to know the exact proportion of each caste in the population, so that every caste could get benefits according to their ratio. As it is, the BJP addressed this problem with its welfare measures to the poorest of the poor as labharthi (beneficiaries) of welfare schemes. Yet, these political parties in the I.N.D.I.A alliance are crying hoarse to exploit social-divisions for electoral gains. They have already announced that the caste-survey in Bihar shows the OBC (27%) and extremely backward castes i.e., EBC (36%) put together amount to 63%. Hence, they need reservation in education and employment accordingly, with the slogan: jitne aabadi utna haq. This way, they want to increase reservations by removing the cap of 50% laid down by the supreme court.
The caste-census is a regressive measure in a progressive country. The prime minister, while addressing an election rally recently in Nizamabad, Telangana State (South India) cautioned the people against the slogan of the Congress. He asked whether the South Indian states should get fewer parliamentary seats in Parliament, as per delimitation going by Congress’ slogan: jitne aabadi utna haq. He also warned the religious minorities about the implications of the Congress slogan as their numbers are lower compared to that of the ‘backward’ majorities.
The Congress’ new war cry for elections is inherently faulty. The state governments have discretion to choose their own criteria for defining backward classes and permission to conduct caste-surveys is within their domain. In that case, why is the opposition I.N.D.I.A alliance seeking for nation-wide caste-census? Enumeration by caste perpetuates more and more caste-divisions and caste-identities. Petty fights like: a caste grouping 3% of the population would fight with one numbering 2% but getting more benefits or progressing well. These caste-identities would eventually force people of the same caste to think on casteist-lines, and to listen to casteist-speeches and grievances by caste. How robust the classification of a particular caste as backward is also questionable because there is no precise definition of caste in India. Of course, it is popularly said that every person has a caste and there is no person in India without caste but many are not quite sure where they fit in the mosaic.
There is no doubt that in any caste-census, one can cast aspersions on the reliability of data collected. For, there is fluidity in castes and caste lines. The dividing lines often get blurred. That being the case, the religious minorities are also included in OBCS. In 2005 elections in Bihar and in 2009 elections in U.P., the regional parties together with the Congress promised reservations for Muslims qua Muslims, though there are no reservations on the basis of religion in the constitution. In any case, some sects among Muslims and Christians are enjoying reservation on OBC quota in many states. Hence, there is no point in giving reservations on the basis of religion.
The opposition calls this caste-census as Mandal 2.0. As a matter of fact, it is not the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report alone that contributed to the development and progress of OBCs in our country. It had to be coupled with economic liberalisation in the 1990s that brought about a sea-change. Because of economic progress, many members of the Backward castes have become as ‘forward’ as many members of the ‘forward’ castes. The solution for the elimination of backwardness lies in modernity and faster growth than in caste-census and caste-division. The successive casteist satraps that ruled Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for years, after independence, could not bring any economic progress or positive change in the lives of OBCs in their respective states. It is also a fact that among the backward classes, the creamy top layers snatch all the benefits. All along Courts gave a series of reasons to exclude creamy layers. What is the answer to this in the I.N.D.I.A alliance partners? This potent poison of caste census should not be injected into the country for the sake of grabbing power for it eventually harms the ones who get it. The Justice G Rohini commission set up to examine the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) submitted its report to the President of India recently. The contents of the report have not been made public as yet. The BJP-led NDA Govt may provide some clearer picture of the situation based on it, instead of going all out for a nationwide caste-census.