May 29, 2014
Government must boldly widen universal access¬ not community quotas
Minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla has voiced reservations on religious quotas, but this principle can be expanded. Opposing minority reservations ¬ a 4.5% sub-quota for backward religious minority groups proposed by UPA within the broader 27% OBC reservations ¬ Heptulla agrees with social justice minister Thavarchand Gehlot on religion-based reservations violating the spirit of the Constitution.
Heptulla also feels these violate the spirit of competition. Reorienting citizens' access to education, employment and amenities, away from communal identities to a common one will be challenging. The evolution of India's polity has thus far relied on breaking citizens into ever-smaller identity and interest groups, allotting entitlements accordingly. The irony is huge.
At Independence, the Constitution provided certain quotas to aid India's most marginalised scheduled castes and tribes. However, with time, packages meant for those on society's margins became mainstream. Communal identities like caste and clan becoming the basis for providing ¬ and excluding ¬ access to state education and government jobs.
This created deep social antagonisms, resentful communities vying to be declared backward rather than the best. But despite a plethora of violent agitations, pontificating commissions and sanctimonious political decisions, how reservations actually work remains a chimera. There are two possibili ties. Either reservations aided beneficiaries within a generation or two, helping them attain participation levels comparable to others. In this scenario, reservations must stop after a set time rather than be perpetuated through eternity. The second possibility is reservations don't really help. In this case again better ways of ensuring development and universal access must be envisioned.
The fact is India is a society in dynamic transition, where community identities are blurring and individual consciousness is on the rise. The Lok Sabha electoral verdict was a thumbs down to patronage politics, which involves the enshrining of wretchedness and cynical cementing of inequalities. The NDA government must seize the moment and rethink routes to a level playing field. Certain measures are common sense. Rather than carving thinner slices from a meagre pie, government must aggressively widen scope and ensure universal access to fundamentals like education, promoting schemes like midday meals that attract diverse children to school and break down divisive identity walls. Additional assistance must be provided on an economic basis, not contentious identities. Interestingly Congress politico Janardhan Dwivedi made such a suggestion before the elections, to be shushed by leaders preferring quotas as crutches. Poll results now show what India prefers. The new government must heed this call.
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