Every policy announcement by the government just months ahead of a major election will be seen through the prism of politics.
Hence, the easy explanation to Narendra Modi government’s decision to offer reservation in jobs and education to economically weaker upper castes is that it is a smart political tactic by BJP to allay the concerns of upper castes and ensure votes wouldn’t drift at the crucial hour.
But beyond the politics of it, the decision also assumes significance. It is also an important step to take the country to the era of income-based reservations from the long-followed community and caste-based reservations.
On Monday, the Union Cabinet approved 10 percent quota in jobs and education to those economically weaker among the upper castes, or general category, who have so far never benefitted from any reservation.
An Indian Express report, quoting sources, said the economically weaker sections will be defined as those “families with income (includes agricultural income as well as from profession) below Rs 8 lakh per annum, possessing agricultural land below five acre and residential house below 1,000 square feet. As for urban areas, those with residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality or residential plot below 200 yards in the non-notified municipal area.”
Is it too early for India to think of income-based reservations and gradually say goodbye to caste-based reservations? Of course, there are always two arguments to it.
French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote Capital in the Twenty-First Century, said in December, 2015 in an interview to The Indian Express: “I am not saying caste-based
reservation system should be replaced right away by an income-based reservation system but you know I think this could be one possible evolution in the long run.”
But debaters on both sides of the argument will have to agree that poverty doesn’t distinguish between castes and communities. After 71 years of Independence and a long history of caste-based reservations, the transition wouldn’t be easy for India. But, at least an effort should be made to bring in change.
According to a working paper by economist Arvind Panagaria, which assessed poverty by social groups (1993-94 to 2011-12), found that percentage of poverty reduction is slower among the forward castes compared with socially backward castes between 2004-05 to 2011-12. Of course, the poverty level is expected to have come down across in the next five to six years as per various estimates.
Of course, moving away from cast, community or even religion-based reservations wouldn’t be easy in a country dominated entirely by caste politics. Also, caste or religion politics wouldn’t confine to education and jobs alone too.
In January last year, there was a demand from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s president Asaduddin Owaisi to allocate the budget resources of BMC to Muslims in the corporation, in proportion to their strength. Of course, if the BMC agreed to that demand, it would have had to also agree for a Christian budget, Buddhist budget and Sikh budget as well.
The point is at some stage, the nation will have to bid adieu to the game of caste, community and religion based reservations and look at income levels as a criterion, which is the right way to look at the picture.
The socially backward castes already enjoy the benefit of reservations. But, once the income-based reservation successfully implemented for economically weaker upper caste, the next logical step should be to apply the same yardstick to the so-called lower castes—OBC, SC, ST and other socially backward sections as well. The rich, regardless of their caste and religion, do not need reservations.