If ever there was a period in India when spiritual attainments were regarded as of more value than the material, since then mores have changed. Worth and success are judged in terms of financial attainments, which is why corruption has multiplied despite a plethora of anti-corruption agencies, several of whom rank well above the average in corruption. Irrespective of his or her social origins, a millionaire or a billionaire gets way more attention and respect than the man on a bicycle or a lowly motor scooter. During the centuries of Mughal rule, followed by the long period under the British, the link between social origin and income became frayed to insignificance, especially in the southern states, where caste is seldom an accurate index of class. Thus, a person from a “backward” community may be several times richer than another from even the most “forward” of communities. Indeed, poverty within such communities has been on the rise, even while those with such a tag are denied the benefits of reservation, save in a very limited way in a few states. The reservation system was, at its heart, designed to ensure a level playing field in income and opportunity. This implies that income should be at the heart of the process, rather than simply an afterthought, in the rare cases where the criterion gets applied at all. So many have witnessed for themselves situations where menial workers in a household (but who belong to a “forward” community) get deprived of the advantage of reservation in educational institutions that are availed of by the financially well-off, but technically “backward” members of the household. Social justice mandates the need to ensure that the poor from whichever community be given assistance to change their lives from despair to hope, and in such a context, the decision by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel in Gujarat to reserve a 10% quota in jobs and educational institutions for those from “forward” castes earning less than Rs 6 lakh a year is welcome It remains to be seen whether the new measure will pass the test of law as applied by the courts, in view of the fact that there have been past decisions placing a 50% ceiling on overall quotas, an order observed in the breach in several states.
The Gujarat government has opened the doors to reservation even for the “forward” castes, or at least those sections within such groups that are economically underprivileged. This is welcome. However, what needs to be constantly remembered is that only new jobs on a massive scale will ensure a rolling back of the flames of social unrest, which is why growth has to front and centre in economic policy, including by the Reserve Bank of India.