ON April 29, the Gujarat government announced a 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker section — with an annual income of Rs 6 lakh or less — in a bid to satisfy the middle class that has traditionally been against caste-based reservation. Political observers, however, feel the move is a gamble that may not withstand a legal challenge.
It’s in this context that the role of BJP’s Gujarat president Vijay Rupani comes into play. Rupani is the man on the ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. They are depending on him to lift the party from its slump over the last two years, with the Patidar quota agitation being the latest crisis, and ensure that BJP maintains its 22-year hold on the state.
Excerpts from an interview:
What’s the basis on which the Gujarat government awarded 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker sections?
There are two issues involved here. One, as the Patidar agitation started, the feeling arose that children from poor families of such castes, who have not got reservation, are finding it difficult to get admissions in educational institutions and government jobs. Two, we launched the Mukhyamantari Yuva Swalamban Yojna for the youth to give subsidy in higher education. For instance, under the current system, if the cut-off marks for reservation for scheduled-caste students was 81 per cent and for open-merit category 91 per cent, those children (who belonged to non-reserved castes) who got between 81 per cent and 91 per cent were forced to go to self-financed private colleges and pay high fees. The Gujarat government allotted Rs 1,000 crore to help such children from non-reserved castes and offered to pay 50 per cent of their fees.
But the demand was huge (as per the government’s estimate, Rs 3,600 crore was paid to 11,000 children) and the move didn’t satisfy non-reserved castes. The buzz was ‘give us reservation’, and the government’s aid was not percolating down to families demanding that.
Then, we met various sections of society, including the Patidar group and the Congress party. Many communities told us to announce reservation for the economically weaker section. (Patidar leaders) Hardik Patel, Laljibhai Patel and even the Congress demanded it. So we decided to announce 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker section from non-reserved sections.
What was the criteria applied to keep the upper limit at a monthly family income of Rs 50,000?
We believe that any family, which has an income of Rs 50,000 or below and has two children, finds it difficult to fund higher education. In view of the higher costs and to maintain a certain standard of living, we decided to keep the annual limit at Rs 6 lakh per family.
The Constitution referred to the social injustice meted out to Dalits and tribals over hundreds of years while granting reservations for them. Don’t you feel this 10 per cent reservation is a reverse exercise of sorts?
You are wrong, you have misunderstood this. What the Constitution has laid down, we are not reducing even one per cent of that. But now, it’s the demand of the times that we live in that we have to think of economically weaker people, too.
How will you justify this move legally if it’s challenged in court?
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.
Yet, there is no Constitutional provision for reservation for the economically weaker section.
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. There are so many Central and state government schemes designed to serve the economically weaker section, and this quota is one of them. Gujarat is the first state to give reservations on this line.
Don’t you think verifying whether those who apply under this quota actually get an income of Rs 50,000 or less will be a massive bureaucratic exercise?
No, the system is set. There is already a provision to seek certificates at the level of the mamalatdar (junior revenue official) to avail government projects for the economically weaker sections.
There is also an allegation that this move is a kind of back-door attempt against caste-based reservation.
Not at all. It could have been branded as anti-reservation if we had tampered with the current ratio. I reiterate that we haven’t reduced or tampered or abused any rights of those people currently getting reservation under the Constitution. We have protected them and we want to protect them. We will protect them always.
Will this reservation move be successful? Will it help you win an election?
This project will surely be successful. This is not done to win any election. This is a social issue on which we have taken the initiative.
Some political observers feel that this decision is on the lines of what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had recommended. He had said that the current reservation system needs a review.
This has nothing to do with Bhagwatji’s statement. There was an agitation in Gujarat. After that, we took into confidence all sections of society and this announcement is culmination of that.
Questions are also being asked in Gujarat about whether 10 per cent is enough for those who are outside the ambit of the existing reservation system?
The percentage of those facing social difficulties and are getting reservation is estimated to be about 70 per cent. It is so in Gujarat, too.
Dalits, tribals and OBCs form around 70 per cent of the population and get around 49 per cent reservation. Out of the 50 per cent remaining, we have carved out 10 per cent for the economically weaker section.
Will the economically weaker families belonging to Dalits, tribals and OBCs avail reservation under the 10 per cent quota?
No, they can’t apply under this quota. Our government resolution clearly states that those who are not getting reservation and whose income is Rs 50,000 or less per month is entitled to reservation under this category. I have told you that the 30 per cent non-reserved class will get this 10 per cent reservation.
Will Muslims be able to apply for it?
Yes, Muslims will get reservation. In Gujarat, there are two types of Muslims. Some of them, who belong to the OBC category, are already covered under the Baxi commission and are getting reservation benefits. The rest can now get reservation if they are economically weaker.
So can all minorities apply under this 10 per cent quota?
I told you there are only two criteria that apply to any Gujarati. The applicant should belong to the economically weaker section, whose family earns Rs 50,000 per month or less, and belong to the non-reserved category.
Do you think that if this quota succeeds in Gujarat, it can be applied across the country?
I can only say that if it succeeds in Gujarat, it will provide a new direction to the country. This scheme is in education and government jobs. This year, the Gujarat government has given 67,000 new jobs.
How has the response been?
We have just started but we have got a very good response. We have not cut even one per cent from the reserved category. So Dalits, tribals and OBCs are happy, there is no dispute. Those who were not getting any reservation so far are happy. It provides justice to all classes and castes.
But some observers ask why Gujarat, which claims to be a role model for other states in development and prosperity, need such a quota?
That is an attempt to defame us. We have never claimed that we don’t have poor people in Gujarat. There are Gujaratis who are living below the poverty line. We have never said that poverty has been removed totally from Gujarat.