[ Daily News and Analysis, 19 Feb 2014 ; Millenium Post, 19 Feb 2014 ]
There is the Congress, the outer Congress, the inner Congress and the inner-inner Congress. Janardan Dwivedi, a long time fixture at the Indira Congress, has is a member of the last circle. The sovereign who wants to push something unpopular also wants to know how deeply unpopular it is. One-way to do this is to make someone very important but not supremely important to say something that the party can distance itself from given the reaction is too harsh. Debates around caste-based reservations, especially revisiting its principles, fall in that category.
The Dwivedi has opined that economic criterion and not caste-based criterion should be the basis of reservations. That the Dwivedi heart bleeds for all poor and not only the lower-caste or tribal poor is now out in the open. In an election year, the poor gain transient importance. The Indira Congress fancies itself to be everybody’s party and is fast becoming anything but that. Cryptic winks to savarnas,‘impromptu’ eating with Dalits, scaremongering at the minority ghetto, private aircraft travellers ‘mixing’ with rail-station coolies – all these are the bamboo poles that some people hope will hold up the Congress tamboo (big tent) at the elections. But let’s return to reservations.
Remember when Mayawati was building statues in Uttar Pradesh a few years ago? A predictable class was disgusted about the crassness of Mayawati building her own statue, as if this megalomania was unprecedented. It is not surprising that the same class choses to forget that the ‘Emergency’ Gandhi was awarded a Bharat-ratna during her own regime. To her credit, Mayawati did not suspend people’s right to life so that trains could run on time. Mayawati did not only build her own statues. People who did not know and did not care about the identity of these other statues nevertheless became oceans of empathy overnight. Overnight empathizers of Dalits precisely tabulated the amount of good that the statue money could have done to Dalits. Health-care, education, sanitation and much more – Uttar Pradesh has many needs. While all this is true, these timeless needs get spotlight only at specific times. The timing gives away the apathy that is dressed up as empathy at opportune moments. This was true about statues. This was true about the intense brainstorming and ‘out-of-box’ thinking about expansion and deepening of primary education that highborn thinkers did during their Youth For Equality protests. Ingenious recipes of making the pie sweeter were proposed to stall a fairer sharing of the pie. Well-timed love can couch much hate. Experienced serial abusers know this well.
Is there any substance in Dwivediji’s concerns? When someone talks about reservation on economic basis, he is saying that poverty in itself, irrespective of caste, is an impediment to equality of opportunity. That is very true. What wrong did the poor Vaishya boy do for which he is denied certain opportunities that a not-so-poor Dalit girl may get due to the reservation system as it exists? On the face of it, this goes against the principal of natural justice. But that is true only if the society is considered a unified one, as some fairy stories would want you to believe. It is not. Reservations do not create societal divisions. The divisions are pre-existing realities. The demand for reservations is a demand for rightful share of present opportunities given such realities. Savarnas and Ashrafs should be thankful that the ‘low-born’ are not demanding reparation or separate electorate, yet.
One may fantasize that we live in some post-casteist society, but this is simply not true. Given these pre-existing divisions, the empathy for the poor Kshatriya or Saiyyad and his lack of opportunities also has a solution. That part of the pie that is at present ‘unreserved’ (‘general category’ as the lingo does) and is openly competitive to all has to be modified to reflect economic reality. Rather than ending caste-based reservations, the hitherto unreserved opportunities (the ‘general category’ pie) ought to have reservation solely on the basis of economic criterion. The proportion of economic reservation in the general category must reflect the economic inequity in the general population. The question is not whether reservation should be for the poor or the lower castes. It should be for the poor and the lower castes, separately. What say, Dwivediji?