Being tethered to the past is a sure-fire recipe for short-sighted policy. The passage of more than seven decades since India became free on 15 August 1947 has resulted in numerous changes in the social structure of the Hindu community, among which has been a growing separation of caste from class. While in the past, the hierarchical order in the caste matrix was overall similar to that of the different income and wealth classes, such a situation cannot be said to prevail in the present. Thanks to the spread of education as well as affirmative action measures, several tens of millions from what are listed as “backward” sections have become better off even as several millions within the so-called “forward” communities have gone down the wealth and income ladder. Indeed, it is no longer uncommon to see “high caste” individuals serving as cooks and cleaners in the households of those specified as coming from the “backward” sections. Of course, while the master of the house has for his children the advantage of reservation of government jobs, the sweeper in his household may lack that advantage for her own children owing to the accident of birth. It is true that the system of reservations was intended only for a period of a decade, but it is equally undeniable that the reservation system has continued to the present and seems to have become a permanent feature of governance. Once an advantage has been conferred on a substantial segment of the population, it becomes almost impossible for a democratically elected government to remove or even dilute the same. And such has been the case with the quota system that forms the core of the reservation mechanism for different segments of the citizenry. Indeed, the mechanism has even had its effect on theology. Caste should not exist in the Christian faith, but several from this educationally advanced community seek to enshrine the Hindu practice of caste through birth within the Christian faith through saying that there is no difference between the two faiths in the matter of caste. This when an important reason why people have changed to the Christian faith has been to escape the tentacles of the caste by birth system, which seeks to permanently place some at a disadvantage vis-a-vis others on the wholly unscientific ground of being born to a different set of parents. Whatever be the birth status of an individual in terms of parentage, a human being has the same potential as any other human being. To say, as was claimed in Hitler’s Germany, that some human beings are from birth better or worse than others is to talk nonsense. Across both sides of the Atlantic, settlers from India have far and away outstripped in performance those of European extraction who compete with them. The performance of two-term US President Barack Obama gave the lie to racists who believe that African Americans are somehow less capable of success than those of European ancestry. The Obama Presidency or the Satya Nadella leadership of Microsoft shows that colour of the skin makes no difference in human potential, just as the unscientific method of determining caste by birth is wholly inaccurate as a guide to human excellence and future potential.
It is for this reason, that all men are created equal, that Prime Minister Modi’s move to ensure that 10% of jobs in government be reserved for economically weaker sections of the so-called “forward” castes needs to be regarded. That there are numerous people living in stark poverty from the so-called “forward” castes is a demonstrable fact. That the quota system that has prevailed since 1947 has ignored them is another reality. The move is, therefore, welcome, and it is hoped that obstacles to its implementation will not be placed by state governments or via the judicial process. At the same time, it would be folly to expand the quota system to the private sector, as was suggested by some MPs in the Rajya Sabha. Such a step would have resulted in a sharp downturn in economic activity in India. The overwhelming vote against such amendments in the Rajya Sabha would have included several from those sections as have benefited from reservation in government jobs and in the educational sy stem. Apart from two MPs, no other member of the Rajya Sabha attempted to get a resolution passed on private sector reservation as would cripple industry and commerce. Those Opposition parties that put aside considerations of political differences to support through their votes this initiative by the Modi government are welcome. There are issues on which all sides must come together, and this was among them. The way in which the measure got passed through both Lok Sabha and Rajya Saha shows that measures clearly promoting public interest could get looked at in a non-partisan manner. A process of consultation and conciliation needs to be mainstreamed in the functioning of Parliament so that there is less of the loss of time that is seen at present. The passage of the enactment seeking 10% reservation to those not covered as yet by the quota system is a welcome move, and the manner of passage of the legislation gives hope that in the future, the nation’s politicians will put public interest first rather than narrow parochial or political interests.