On January 1, 1979, the Morarji Desai government chose Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal, a former chief minister of Bihar, to head the Second Backward Class Commission. Mandal submitted his report two years later, on December 31, 1980. By then, the Morarji Desai government had fallen and Indira Gandhi came to power. It remained in deep freeze during her term and that of Rajiv Gandhi.
On August 7, 1990, then PM V P Singh announced in Parliament that his government had accepted the Mandal Commission report, which recommended 27% reservation for OBC candidates at all levels of its services. With the implementation of the report, OBC or Other Backward Classes made its way into the lexicon of India’s social justice movement.
Soon after, scattered protests against the OBC quota began in Delhi. In September, Rajeev Goswami, a Delhi University student, set himself on fire, sustaining 50 per cent burns. He survived the immolation bid, but the spark had been ignited. In cities and towns near Delhi, a number of youths set themselves on fire. The south, which had had a long history of political movements for the rights of backward communities, was untouched by the agitation. By then, VP Singh’s government was in serious trouble, but he stood his ground.
The BJP, which supported the government from outside, attempted to shift the political debate from Mandal to the Ram temple and L K Advani set off on his rath yatra. The BJP withdrew support soon after and the V P Singh government fell.
NOT THE FIRST REPORT
In January 1953, the government had set up the First Backward Class Commission under the chairman of social reformer Kaka Kalelkar. The commission submitted its report in March 1955, listing 2,399 backward castes or communities, with 837 of them classified as ‘most backwards’. The report was never implemented.
B P Mandal: Authored the report
‘Lalu has no right to talk of Mandal’
“I am not even sure Lalu Prasad has read the report,” says Manindra Kumar Mandal of the ‘Report of the Backward Classes Commission’ authored by his father and former Bihar chief minister B P Mandal.
“Lalu has no moral authority to talk of a Mandal II when he has not done anything to implement Mandal I. Nitish Kumar hasn’t implemented it either,” says Manindra, 65, a former JD(U) MLA from Madhepura. Calling for the release of the caste census recently, Lalu said he would press on with the demand and that his movement would be a sequel to the original Mandal agitation.
Sitting in his Patna house, with a portrait of his father looking over him, Manindra flips through an album and pulls out a 1980 photograph of his father presenting the Mandal report to then president Giani Zail Singh. He recalls his father’s “hectic schedule” as he travelled extensively across the country for the report. “My father would tell us how he came across several Rajput families in some states and put them in the OBC category because of their poor socio-economic condition. There is not a single anti-upper caste term in the report,” says Manindra, adding that the report has been maligned by some as being anti-merit and anti-upper castes.
The Mandals were a landed family in Darbhanga but as a child, Manindra says, his father faced social discrimination because they were Yadavs (an OBC caste in Bihar). “While in school, my father would support his less fortunate friends by giving them blankets and coats. But his Brahmin school principal would not allow him to eat with his upper-caste hostel-mates. One day, my father broke down before the principal but he only said it was not such a big deal. My father’s experience made him just the right person to draft this report,” says Manindra, the third of Mandal’s five sons.
He says he doesn’t think of former prime minister Indira Gandhi as an ‘autocrat’. “To me, she was a democrat. The commission was set up by the Morarji Desai government and she could have easily scrapped it after coming to power in 1980 but she allowed two extensions of three months each,” says Manindra, adding that Indira Gandhi had told his father to look into the economic status of classes, besides their socio-educational status.
Mandal died in April 1982, eight years before the report could be accepted. Manindra is bitter about how politicians rode the Mandal wave — with leaders such as Lalu and Nitish coming into their own as Mandal politicians — but how it “hardly benefited me and my brothers”. Manindra was denied a JD(U) ticket in the 2010 Assembly polls.
“The Mandal Commission talks of OBCs as a whole but Bihar followed Karpoori Thakur’s formula and carved out another Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) category. Both Lalu and Nitish dared not implement the commission report because they feared an EBC backlash,” he says.
Reported by Santosh Singh
M Abubacker Siddique: Part of 1st IAS batch that had OBC quota
‘It was all about new hopes’
For 1971-born IAS officer Mohamed Abubacker Siddique, starting his career as a sub-collector in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu may have been easier than for others. The fireworks he witnessed in the run-up to when his 1995 batch was chosen, should have prepared him adequately.
Now posted in Chennai as Commissioner of Archives and Historical Research, Government of Tamil Nadu, Siddique’s batch of 1995 was the first that saw all-India reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), five years after the announcement to implement the Mandal Commission report was made in 1990.
But Siddique, an OBC Muslim from Tamil Nadu, did not need quota to enter the elite service, having made it to the ‘general’ list with just one person in the country ahead of him. Siddique, an electronics and communications engineer from IIT Madras, had only two years before, in 1993, topped the all-India GATE (entrance for M.Tech).
But 1995 was different, he says. Though his state, Tamil Nadu, had seen reservations in jobs decades before the north Indian states found itself in the Mandal arc, as a young officer, he was right in the middle of the storm that the reservation had stirred up.
Twenty-five years after the Mandal report was tabled and 20 years since that first batch of IAS officers, Siddique says, “Ours was the first batch to have a large number of officers from castes classified as backward. Now is a good time to see the outcome of the reservation policy. Peer group review is always the best means of assessing the performance of officers and I have no doubt that the ‘reserved category’ of officers of my batch are in no manner less efficient that the ‘general category’ officers.”
He does not buy the argument that there is a trade-off between representation and efficiency. “Marks are by no means the final certificate of merit,” he says.
Siddique says the reservation policy of 1994 had an impact in ways few imagined. There were several families, who, until then, had not had an IAS or IPS officer in their midst, but who could now aspire to have one. “The reservation policy not only increased the representation of OBCs in the services, it also enhanced the confidence and hope amongst OBC students of getting selected to the services. A greater number succeeded in the examination, both in the general and reserved categories. This was due to the hope that reservation brought to OBC students.”
Reported by Seema Chishti
P S Krishnan: As secretary, welfare ministry, signed on the Mandal notification
‘Debate brought to fore the unnamed’
The summer of 1990 was an eventful one for P S Krishnan, an Andhra Pradesh-cadre IAS officer. He was to retire in a few months as secretary, ministry of welfare, at the Centre, but before that, he had to sign on the August 7 Mandal notification that proposed, among other things, 27 per cent reservation for OBC candidates in central government jobs.
Sitting in his apartment in Gurgaon, the 83-year-old Krishnan recalls the stormy run-up to that signature. “There was much resistance within the system when I prepared the note for the Cabinet’s consideration in May that year. I was flooded with ‘queries’ from senior officers,” he says.
His years in the bureaucracy had taught him to read the signs: ‘queries’ were just a way of conveying that he had to go slow. “But I replied within 24 hours to each of the queries and the order finally made it to V P Singh’s table.”
As secretary, Krishnan, not a backward himself, used to openly make his case for empowering the backward castes, minorities and Dalits. “Given the nature of the National Front government, I was worried that this arrangement (the coalition) would not last long, so I was working extra hard.”
The upheaval began soon after V P Singh made his August 7 announcement in the Lok Sabha on implementing the Mandal report — the BJP and the Congress railed against it, anti-Mandal protests broke out in the north, the government fell, and Chandra Shekhar took over as prime minister. While the south was not new to reservations, in the north, there were a rash of petitions in courts. “I knew Chandra Shekhar was anti-Mandal and would not want this to go through. So before I retired, I pushed a whole lot of data and information to the Supreme Court and dealt with all the objections.”
Krishnan recalls how he had to firefight a lot, even within the system. As immolations and protests started, he recalls, he had a meeting with then attorney general Soli Sorabjee, who asked him, ‘Bhai, what is this caste-shaste?’. “When I explained how fortunate he was to have been born a Parsi and not having to feel the full force of the caste system, he immediately came on my side.”
These days, Krishnan spends his days writing, drafting and pointing out the law and Constitution to all those who care to listen — state governments, courts, and other organisations.
Speaking of the far-reaching changes that Mandal brought to social and political lives, he says the “big thing” it did was to help recognise the idea of backwardness, as something that is weighed not just by access to money.
“It is important to know that in India a social system existed that sought to see vast number of people as lowly, inferior and backward. But for the debate that followed Mandal, stone-cutters, fishermen, boatmen… so many people who do such important tasks with their hands, would have existed unrecognised or unnamed,” he says.
Reported by Seema Chishti
Indra Sawhney: Took on the government, lent her name to the most famous of Mandal cases
‘Wanted issue of quotas settled’
Those were the days of fiery protests, rallies, demonstrations — and traffic snarls. As a young lawyer on her way to courts in Delhi, these disruptions forced her to reflect — and act — on what she saw. “Students were out on the roads, there were self-immolations… That’s when I decided to file the PIL,” says Indra Sawhney of her decision to file a PIL in the Supreme Court against the government. She says she wanted to “put to rest” the issue of reservation by seeking a definition of “backward classes” and whether more than 50 per cent of the seats could be reserved.
The case, and the judgment by a nine-judge Bench on November 16, 1992, became a landmark, with her name becoming a shorthand for what the courts had to say on the matter.
The 1992 judgment recognised socially and economically backward classes as a category, said caste could be a factor for identifying backward classes and recognised the validity of the 27 per cent reservation. Another phrase that gained currency through this judgment was the ‘creamy layer’ — those among the OBCs who had transcended their social backwardness were to be excluded from the reservation. The bench also laid down a 50 per cent limit on reservations and said that economic, social and educational criteria were needed to define backward classes.
Now 64, the senior lawyer says the judgment has been “diluted and eroded for vote bank politics”.
“Reservation was to be only for 10 years, but political parties just do politics to get votes instead of doing anything to uplift the backward classes,” says Sawhney.
Reported by Aneesha Mathur