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Reservation politics: Why BJP played the 'general category' card

The new assumption is that a big segment of the population has for various reasons, including due to the benefit of reservation to other deprived sections, got gradually marginalised.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jan 08, 2019, 10.00 AM IST
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This is a significant political call because it positions the BJP on the other side of the reservation debate, but not necessarily against it.
The BJP’s first aggressive foray into reservation politics by playing the ‘general category’ card hinges on three broad pivots, which would give a whole new spin to this tricky, yet politically lucrative, subject.

First, reservations are not meant only for socially backward classes or castes. And that there are now a huge number among the historically “oppressor classes/castes” who are at the receiving end of the socio-economic order because of their low-income status.

This challenges the existing fundamental assumption in Indian policy of who constitutes the oppressed and the disadvantaged, based on which affirmative action policies have been drawn up since Independence. It seeks to argue that old realities have changed.

Clearly, the new assumption is that a big segment of the population has for various reasons, including due to the benefit of reservation to other deprived sections, got gradually marginalised.

Second, the introduction of economic criteria for determining disparity. The general understanding has been that because of certain historical wrongs, the economic status of certain categories of people was pre-determined by their social status at birth, especially in the caste system. The idea was to eventually rupture this assigned order and align it to the fundamentals of constitutionally guaranteed equal opportunity and rights.

But Monday’s decision conveys that a situation has now arisen where many people caught in a poverty trap, regardless of their culturally determined social status, are consigned to a life of social discrimination. In other words, economic mobility is not necessarily a function of merit. And, therefore, income and wealth status of an individual offers itself as a ‘fair criteria’ for affirmative action. Third, reservation along economic lines will not reinforce the old religious-social order. What it means is that an economically empowered upper caste will not be a threat to an upwardly mobile SC/ST or OBC.

Essentially, the government has taken the call that 10% quota for the 50% population outside the reservation matrix is not counterproductive to the logic, which necessitated affirmative action in the first place. This is a significant political call because it positions the BJP on the other side of the reservation debate, but not necessarily against it.

The implementation of this decision is fraught with complexities, including ways to ensure that those in the original 50% batch don’t migrate into the second half. Also, the government will be constitutionally bound to ensure that this remains caste and religion-agnostic. But those concerns can wait. For now, it’s the political dividends which will matter the most.
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