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The Big Picture – Patidar agitation erupts again: Reconciling social strife & investment

The Big Picture – Patidar agitation erupts again: Reconciling social strife & investment

Summary:

The Patidar agitation for OBC status in Gujarat has witnessed a revival in the state following the impetus given by the Haryana government. The Haryana government recently gave into the Jats’ agitation and passed a draft bill granting them reservation. However, it is being said that (most) Patidars in Gujarat are not only economically affluent, but also socially and politically influential.

Why are patidars demanding a share of the OBC quota?

Quotas have meant that Patidar youth must do that much better in competitive examinations to land a government job or a seat in a government medical college. At present, youths from rural areas are at a double disadvantage due to their socio-economic background.

  • Patidar community is infamous for its skewed sex ratio, and Patel youths, especially in the rural areas, find it difficult to get a bride. Parents of girls prefer a groom with a government job or business in a city to one with agricultural land in rural areas.
  • Over the years, economic downturns and crop failures have led to a preference for government jobs over farming. Saurashtra, dominated by Patels, is a major cotton and groundnut belt, but farmers have not got good prices for their crops in the last two seasons.
  • The stress has contributed to the perception that as Patels suffer, OBC youth, helped along by quotas, have been steadily improving their socio-economic situation.

Background:

The reservation policy which was initiated as a temporary provision (for 10 years) for Scheduled Castes(SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in our Constitution in 1950, has expanded its coverage and contents multifold over the past six to seven decades. It has now become an almost a permanent feature of the national policies.

  • Reservation was meant to repudiate the religiously sanctioned apartheid and oppression of caste society, and to establish the community of formal equals that is a precondition for nationhood.
  • In the constitutional view, reservation is explicitly and exclusively about redressing caste discrimination and inequality. By its very definition, reservation cannot promote the interests of the dominant castes; if anything, it would work against them.
  • However, now the reservation policy is being used mainly in vote bank politics played around the castes and has failed in including the people at the bottom in the mainstream economy and society.

Present scenario:

The original dimension of reservation has been forgotten, and today it is understood more as a means for redressing caste-linked discrimination and “backwardness”, and for enabling the inclusion of hitherto excluded and under-represented groups. Today, the main qualifications for getting reservation would be: an electorally significant population, and the skills needed to mobilise the community, manage the media and mount a successful campaign to coerce the state.

Why demands for reservations are on rise?

  • Average landholding size most castes is reducing with every passing generation. Moreover, agriculture is not considered as lucrative now as it was some years back.
  • As their traditional profession of agriculture loses its sheen, people are turning towards cities, and more specifically government jobs in cities.
  • Also, many people, who do not have enough capital to start a business, have to look for jobs. Here these castes feel that they lose out to other castes, who have OBC status.

Pros of reservation system in India:

Reservations imply that economically and socially weaker sectors of the society get better opportunities to uplift their economic as well as social status. These reservations not only apply to job opportunities but also admissions in colleges, universities and government run educational institutions, which means that students belong to the backward classes have been given an extra advantage to come up with higher education. As a consequence, the reservation system opens new doors of opportunities for such people and gives them a chance to build a better future for themselves as well as their coming generations. It is also a step to remove the social and economic disparities in the country and take a step forward on the path of a balanced society.

Cons of reservation system:

Though the Reservation System works in favor of the backward castes of the society, at the same time, it has brewed up some controversies in the country too. It is believed that the system supersedes merit in certain circumstances, when meritorious candidates are deprived of the jobs or admissions so that candidates of backward classes can be accommodated as per the reservation system. Moreover, the system is confined to government institutions and firms, while those in the private sector are still beyond the reach of people belonging to the backward classes, either because they lack the skills needed to enter these firms or institutions or they are not financially sound enough to afford them. Some believe that the reservation system is a political tool to get hold of the backward class vote bank and it has an overall negative impact on the productive workforce of the country by ignoring the people with true potential and giving people opportunities on the basis of caste rather than merit.

Why there is a need to reexamine our reservation policy?

  • Changed external conditions.
  • Increased popularity of reservation system.
  • Increased competition to get government jobs.
  • Lack of data.

What needs to be done now?

  • Conduct regular surveys to identify the beneficiaries who can claim the benefits under the reservation policy.
  • Re-evaluate the eligibility of groups for inclusion in reserved categories every 10 or at least every 20 years.
  • While caste will continue to be the mainstay of reservation policies, the benefits should flow to the vast majority of underprivileged children from deprived castes; not to a few privileged children with a caste tag.

Conclusion:

Clearly, the time has come to rethink our reservation policies. The radical rethinking on reservation should aim at:

  1. Excluding the entire creamy layer from reservation.
  2. Developing the capabilities of the deprived and excluded beyond offering them admission to higher education or jobs on a platter.

The underlying principle should be that all the poorest at the bottom get support and all the poorest — excluded socially and economically — get a preference.