(Source: PTI)

Will Modi’s Upper Caste Quota Gamble Pay Off?

The Narendra Modi government plans to create a 10 percent quota in jobs and state-funded education institutions for economically backward sections among the general category ahead of the next general election. But will it cross the legal hurdle? More importantly, will it help him win voters?

The cabinet cleared the decision to allow 10 percent additional reservations over and above the quota for backward castes, multiple news reports said quoting unnamed people. A constitutional amendment bill will be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, PTI reported.

As of now, 50 percent government jobs and seats in government-funded schools, colleges and universities are reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. But upper caste communities like the Patidars of Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra and Jats in Haryana have been demanding reservation, too, as India stares at a jobs crisis and falling farm returns discourage people from taking up agriculture. The new proposal, if it goes through, could theoretically give them a better chance at coveted government jobs.

Will Modi’s Upper Caste Quota Gamble Pay Off?

Dalit ideologue Chandrabhan Prasad, however, said the objective of reservations is not economic upliftment. “The purpose of reservation is to bring social equality and not to alleviate poverty,” he told BloombergQuint. “The move will only frustrate the upper caste youth in the long run because of lack of government jobs.”

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy estimates that there are 2.3 crore central and state-government jobs in all. As per the Department of Expenditure, there were only four lakh vacant positions in the central government as of March 2016.

The demand for government jobs is so high that nearly two crore people applied for 63,000 vacant posts in the Indian Railways recently.

Also read: Job Creation? How About Filling 20 Lakh-Plus Vacant Government Posts?

And the bigger question is how will the government implement the new quota?

Since the constitution envisions reservations only on the basis of caste, a Constitutional amendment will be needed to push the changes through. This entails the bill being voted by a two-thirds majority in both the houses. The government has very little time.

Political analyst Amitabh Tiwari said the decision is aimed at a favourable verdict in the “people’s court”. It will be difficult for any political party to argue against quotas among the upper castes who make up 25 percent of the population. “It’s a win-win for the BJP.”

Yet, even if the Modi government does cross the parliamentary hurdle, the changes can be challenged in the Supreme Court because it has capped reservations at 50 percent and turned down several requests by states to breach that level.

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, however, said the grounds to challenge a constitutional amendment are limited because a violation of the basic structure of the Constitution will have to be demonstrated.

If you can have reservations for different categories, it will be very difficult to say why there should no reservation for economically weaker people in the forward community.
Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate