The Union cabinet’s introduction of a controversial bill to provide 10% reservation for economically backward upper caste people in government higher education institutes and jobs has sparked dissent. That includes opposition from Dalit-Bahujan activists who say the move will threaten the Constitutionally-guaranteed interests of their communities.
R Krishnaiah, a prominent Other Backward Class leader and MLA, told TNM that the move by the BJP-led government is a “meaningless proposal” and an election stunt. “We are dead against the reservations based on economic grounds. They should learn that the reservations are meant for uplifting and protecting the rights of the lower strata of the society, but not a poverty eradication programme,” he said.
He further asserted that “there is no provision or condition in the Constitution that accommodates economic criteria-based reservations. Any aggressive move in this regard will see our agitations.”
The proposed 10% quota pushes reservations over the 50% cap mandated by the Supreme Court in 1992. Reservations beyond 50% will go against Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution but is protected from judicial review by the Ninth Schedule.
Krishnaiah acknowledged that poverty exists among upper castes, though he says it should be handled with government welfare schemes, special economic packages and financial assistance for education.
While OBC organisations threatened to protest against reservations for the upper castes, activists like Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd noted that the move could kill the debate over ‘death of merit.’
Speaking to TNM, Kancha Ilaiah noted that the same groups that once argued against OBC reservation are now bringing reservations to the forefront. Kancha Ilaiah said he welcomes the proposal of 10% reservations for economically weaker sections of upper castes as long as it doesn’t affect the existing caste-based reservations for SC, ST and OBC communities.
He pointed out that he and other activists “have long demanded government proposal for 100% reservations for all communities based on fresh caste census, for a more inclusive and democratic policy.”
“Those who earlier used talked about merit are silent. They should answer the question of merit now. The debate over so-called merit is finished, since their party itself adopted the idea of reservation,” he said.
Dr Jilukara Srinivas, writer, scholar and an executive member with the Bahujana Writers Association, said that the move by the BJP government should be seen as an “election stunt” as upper caste voters have been moving away from the party.
Jilukara slammed the alleged double standard of the government, noting said “the same BJP government denied reservations for Muslims, which Sachar Committee has recommended, showing the so-called cap by the Supreme Court.”
In November 2017, Andhra government passed a bill in the state Assembly providing a 5% reservation to the Kapu caste, a peasant community, in education and public employment. However, the bill was stalled by the Centre because of the SC cap.