India is today witnessing two Dalit candidates contesting for the country’s top post i.e. the president’s post. KR Narayanan was the first Dalit President of India. He assumed office in 1997. It took two decades for the ruling and opposition parties to field Dalit candidates for the top post.
NDA has fielded Ram Nath Kovind while the Opposition parties have fielded Meira Kumar for the presidential polls. Who will head the country will be clear only after the polls scheduled to take place on July 17. Was it a well-planned strategy to appease the Dalit voters of the country or small parties which represent people from lower castes?
Caste-based politics and caste-based reservations in India has always been a subject of discussion among political pandits but in last two decades, it has gained a momentum in terms of identifying and adding new castes in the list of beneficiaries of reservations in education and government jobs. For uplifting the people from backward communities, after Independence, successive governments provided jobs and educational opportunities to them by increasing the quota in different categories and sections.
Taking a cue from this, now many communities from the upper castes have started demanding reservations. In Gujarat, Patidars agitating for reservation and inclusion in the other backward category (OBC). To appease them and other upper caste communities, the Gujarat government announced 10 per cent reservations for the economically backwards among the upper castes. Immediately, to gain a political mileage out of the situation, the main opposition party, Congress, announced that they will increase the EBC quota to 20 per cent if they come to power in assembly elections due this year.
Similarly, in Haryana, the situation is no better with the massive Jat agitation throwing life out of gear early this year. Same was the situation in neighbouring Rajasthan where Rajputs were demanding reservations and threatened protest if quota benefits were not given to the economically backwards among the community.
Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, had envisaged the caste-based reservation only for a decade post-Independence but even after 70 years, the caste-based reservation continues on the behest of political parties which have amended the laws to suit their political needs (to appease the respective community to gain their support in the elections). Judiciary should not label the ‘reservation’ as a policy issue and should strictly monitor the amendments and restrain political parties from playing ‘reservation politics’ to strengthen their vote banks. For politicos, it is a Constitutional right, which according to them cannot be taken away but they can make amendments and add more and more communities to the existing list of reservation beneficiaries!
Reservation was justified post-Independence to bring the downtrodden and oppressed into the mainstream of the society and to provide them with equal opportunities, socially and economically. Even today, there is no harm in providing caste-based reservations but is it reaching to the people who actually need it? Many beneficiaries of the caste-based reservations even after becoming financially strong, still continue to get the benefits while the deserving candidates from their community struggle for the same. There is an immediate need to identify the people from the lower castes who are still oppressed and deprived of benefits of the reservation and are miles away from social reforms.
- MEGHA V CHOUDHARY