BRUSHING aside legal objections and what critics describe as fears of “social tension”, the BJP government in Gujarat is pushing to implement its new 10 per cent reservation for the poor during college admissions starting this month.
“The Gujarat government is committed to honestly implement 10 per cent reservation for non-reserved poor people. We have issued the notification and have instructed all educational institutions to start admitting students as soon as the results of classes X and XII are declared. The process will start within a month,” Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama told The Indian Express.
However, the decision has triggered an undercurrent of tension among various groups who are yet to openly oppose the idea, fearing a political backlash. More so, with observers suggesting that the move is a reflection of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s suggestion before the Bihar polls last year that the caste-based reservation system needed a relook.
“The Gujarat government is serious. The Patidar agitation has given them a chance to implement the RSS-BJP’s old agenda for Gujarat to introduce reservation on the basis of economic criteria,” said Gaurang Jani, advisor to the state OBC commission and associate professor of sociology in Gujarat University.
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Jani said that in the two major anti-reservation riots in Gujarat in the 1980s, BJP had sided with the upper castes — since then, the Patel, Brahmin and Baniya communities have backed the party. “But Gujarati society at large is ready to experiment with the BJP’s idea if the court doesn’t intervene in this sociopolitical issue,” said Jani.
The latest decision, unveiled on April 19, provides 10 per cent reservation to individuals from families that earn Rs 6 lakh or less annually and who are not covered by caste-based reservations.
Alpesh Thakor, who heads the OBC-ST-SC Ekta Manch, said the government move is being looked at “with suspicion”. “We are in a kind of suspended disbelief. There is tension all over Gujarat among all castes about this. The Patels and other upper castes feel that this political decision will be stayed in the very first hearing by a court. All of us will be back to square one,” he said.
“We are not against the poor from upper castes. Like us, we know that they suffer. We want to tell the BJP, ‘don’t play politics’. Also, look after our poor as well,” said Thakor.
Anand Yagnik, Ahmedabad-based lawyer, described the decision as a “complete violation” of the 1992 Supreme Court judgment that identified caste as the criteria for reservation. “It’s a sham. Any level of camouflage won’t help inside the courtroom,” said Yagnik.
The new quota has also elicited a mixed response from Patidars who want to continue with their demand for inclusion on the OBC list.
The Opposition Congress, too, appears to be playing it safe, with its former state chief Arjun Modhawadia virtually endorsing the move.
“After the Patidar agitation, we had announced that in line with the Congress’s national manifestos of 2009 and 2014, we want 10-20 per cent reservation in Gujarat for the economically backward classes, in accordance with their population,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, BJP state chief Vijay Rupani defended the government move, saying it was in tune with “the demand of the times”. He said that the decision was also in line with various schemes of the central and state governments that cater to the poor.
Asked how the state would justify the quota if it was legally challenged, Rupani said, “We will justify it on the grounds that bright and clever children from poor families often do not get admissions in institutes of higher education. The Right to Education (RTE), introduced by the Congress, had a provision for poor children in schools. On similar grounds, we will argue that poor children who are craving for higher education need attention and a system that assures admission under RTE.”
Responding to allegations levelled by critics, such as Thakor, that the idea may not be Constitutionally viable, Rupani said, “There is no issue of the Constitution involved here. The way weaker sections get plots to build cheap houses, the way government projects are planned and implemented for them, we have carved out a quota…”