Quotas in legislatures, government jobs and educational institutions were resented by a majority of Indian population till the late 80s. The myth of ‘merit’ was conceived and circulated to spread fear, paranoia, opposition and hatred towards the policy of reservations for SC/STs.
The quotas in legislatures were originally mandated only for ten years and have subsequently been extended by another decade at a time via repeated constitutional amendments. There used to be an overwhelming sentiment against these extensions in the name of equality for all, and the principle of merit. Times have now changed.
In enforcing the Mandal Commission recommendations, VP Singh created a strong bulwark in support of quotas. Now all backward classes were aligned in favour of affirmative action. The tide had decisively turned. It was no longer politically feasible for any political formation to rail against quotas and hope to survive at the hustings. SC/STs and OBCs, after all, constitute an overwhelming majority of the country’s electorate.
Now with the September 26 judgement of the Supreme Court which has cleared the way for Reservation in Promotions in jobs, as well as buzz surrounding introduction of job quotas or some kind of affirmative action in the private sector, socio-political ecosystem is rife with anticipation and speculations. These politically potent ideas have been in vogue for quite some time, but due to some legal constraints (M. Nagraj case) and lack of political will, have not yet become laws.
With the General Elections 2019 looming over the horizon, temptation on the part of the beleaguered government to introduce these quotas must be quite strong. It might appear that there are many hiccups on the path, but it should be kept in mind that every change or reform engenders a lot of resistance, but once enforced with the right intent and strong will, gains acceptance with time. Stranger or more unpopular and even some bizarre laws have found traction with times. It’s a matter of acting on them, and not just speculating over their outcomes.
There have been proposals promising large quotas for the local job-seekers in public as well as private sectors in Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra. On similar lines, it is not quite fantastic to think about quotas in the private sector. If one can be promised, the other can be delivered as well. Of course, there can be riders, like minimum standards, provision of vocational instructions and other ways to implement this proposal.
Selling these ideas to the public does take some convincing skills. One was shocked when the South African Cricket Board (SACB) was directed by their Government in 2016 to include an average of six coloured players, two of whom must necessarily be African Blacks, in every match, to be averaged over a season. Their Rugby giants, the Springboks, were also directed to follow a rigid quota policy. Performances were expected to suffer, but going by the trends, the policy has worked quite well.
For every Kyle Abbot or Wayne Parnell, who has opted for Kolpak deals to play in UK, there is a Bavuma or a Ngidi who has managed to thrive under support. The net loser is neither SACB, nor Cricket itself, but possibly the whites who constitute just about 9 percent of the country’s population, but have ruled the country with an iron fist for a long time.
It is in this light that I read Union Minister Ramdas Athavale’s statement wherein he demanded team spots be reserved for players from weaker sections in the BCCI’s National Cricket Team. Athavale received bad press and ridicule over social media for his suggestion.
Since independence, only three Dalits players (Palwankar Baloo, Vinod Kambli and Karsan Ghavri) and no tribals have been lucky to represent India. This is certainly below par. It is also a direct result of denial of opportunities at local levels. Why can’t we follow suit and implement something like the South African quota system in Indian sports as well? What is so outrageous about it? Heaven would not fall if that happens. Most sports federations are led by career politicians. Why have they never taken lead in this regard?
In the political sphere, BJP currently has fifteen CMs of its own, out of which none is a Dalit, and a couple of them are tribals. This needs to be addressed. Since free will has not worked, quotas are the only way to address this anomaly. We have not had a Dalit PM so far. How can we hope for one when so few Dalits have even become CMs, despite their numerical strength? If the idea of quotas for top posts seems shocking, just look at what Lebanon has managed to accomplish.
Lebanon’s consociational government, which distributes power among the country’s religious communities, has managed to keep a fractured country intact. Seats in parliament are split evenly between Christians and Muslims, and the main offices of President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament are reserved for Maronite Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites, respectively.
The Taif agreement allots 64 seats each to both religious groups, which are further subdivided into Maronites, Eastern Orthodox, Melkite Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, Armenian Catholics according to their numerical strengths in case of Christians and among Sunnis, Shias, Alawites and Druze in case of Muslims. Belgium, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Switzerland also follow similar consociational systems for power distribution. India is an equally divided society, if not more. We need reservations in Cabinets and topmost spots as well.
Our Armed Forces and higher judiciary still don’t allot quotas. This begs the question why not? If the martial and non-martial race divisions, and the caste-based nomenclature of army units have not adversely impacted the unity, why should quotas do? Higher judiciary must be socially sensitive and reservation for backward sections would enhance empathy among judges which would aid in progressive interpretation of law. Denial of reservation in these institutions gives weight to the myth of merit and raises the levels of suspicion between the haves and have nots.
South Africa has job quotas too. Bangladesh Civil Service reserves 30 percent of total seats for children and grandchildren of freedom fighters, and some for women and tribals. Pakistan and Sri Lanka follow the same practice. We are not unique in this. Brazil and South Africa follow policies of affirmative action in the economic field as well. Points are awarded if companies recruit the disadvantaged and they get preference awarding of government contracts. Private sector, the largest job provider, must also play its part in dispelling entrenched myths and ushering in a more equal society.
Rather than half-hearted execution of quotas, India must overcome doubts, and implement quotas for SC/STs in promotions, private sector, Sports, Armed forces, Higher Judiciary and topmost political and executive posts without further delay. Creamy layer exclusion can take care of the grievances of other sections of society. The sooner we act on this, the faster we break age-old barriers and become more inclusive as a nation.
Abhinav Pancholi, IRS, Kolkata. The author is an avid sports lover with a passion for literature.
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