The Bihar election is over. The BJP has lost. Almost miraculously, the resignations have stopped and discussions about “India, the Intolerant” have gone into reverse. Was it really all about the election? In a perceptive article in another newspaper, Baijayant “Jay” Panda, MP from Odisha, observed that there seemed to be an upsurge in “issues before the electorate” prior to the recent state elections.
As he states, “Just as in the earlier phase of reported church attacks bunched around the Delhi state election, so too now the crucial Bihar election is undoubtedly a catalyst. The bigger question is, for whom? For no one side or party has a monopoly on such tactics.”
Let us hope that the BJP is a bit more informed, a bit more humble, a bit less arrogant, and suffers from considerably less hubris the next time there are state elections (April 2016). Given that it is a no-brainer that the political opposition to Narendra Modi, led by the down-but-not-out Congress party, will always be exaggerated and “peak” during election time, how many awardees are there left to return awards, or will there be some other “mechanism” for the glitterati-liberati to vent their anger and frustration? What I cannot understand is that, given all this, how did the normally politically savvy Modi fall into the well-laid traps of “intolerance”?
In particular, on all human, ethical, and moral concerns, Modi and the BJP should have been the first to condemn the killing of writers and Mohammad Akhlaq, and any other incidents of intolerance. Why did they wait so long? Was it hubris? We will never know. But Election 2016 will be the time to find out — about both the proclivity of some to create trouble for the BJP, and the reaction, and reaction time, of the BJP.
There is one Bihar 2015 incident for which the BJP has been unfairly criticised — that is, the issue of reservations. Indeed, it is the Mahagathbandhan in the form of Lalu Prasad that exploited the caste issue. Objectively speaking, it was Lalu who was the caste villain, just as Amit Shah was the communal villain (firecrackers in Pakistan). But no awards are being returned because of Lalu’s caste villainy.
Let me explain. What did RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat say about reservations? He made three points: First, that the topic of reservations has been politicised from the start. Second, that there is need to review the basis of the “ancient” reservation system that India inherited from its colonial forefathers and the Constitution. Third, that special “benefits” should be based on class, not caste. “We believe, form a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed to social equality, including some representatives from the society, they should decide which categories require reservation and for how long.” How is Bhagwat’s demand any different than the demand of the Constitution? And maybe he has read the Constitution more carefully than Lalu has because, according to the 95th Amendment, provisions for “reservations” will expire in January 2020 after having prevailed for 70 years.
Bhagwat did not mention caste anywhere — but all Lalu sees is caste. At a rally in Raghopur, Lalu replied to Bhagwat: “Yeh ladai hai backward aur forward ki. Maine Mohan Bhagwat ko keh diya hai ki moochh mein dum hai to aarakshan khatam karo. Yeh tiranga nahin, bhagwa jhanda fehrana chahata hai. (This is a battle between backward and forward castes. I have challenged Bhagwat — he should scrap reservations if he has the guts. He wants to hoist the saffron flag, not the tricolour).”
When I first read Bhagwat’s comment, I felt he indirectly made a strong case for Muslims being the prime beneficiaries of a revised policy on economic reservations. The only issue I have with Bhagwat is that he keeps talking of the need for (revised) reservations without realising that a quota system is detrimental for all and detrimental to “integral humanism”. In India, many learned scholars (especially on the left) keep confusing reservations with affirmative action. The latter policy is one where positive steps are taken — for example, income transfers, scholarships, etc — to help the integration of formerly excluded members from the mainstream.
It does not matter whether the poor or the discriminated against are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, SC, ST, Buddhist, Jain or Parsi. The poor are economically and “socially” disadvantaged and it is imperative that they be helped by the state — and helped considerably more than all others.
With a quota for education and/or jobs, the “colour of your skin” matters most, not your needs, merit or competence. With affirmative action, economic disadvantage is paramount — that is, are you poor and in need of state support? — and is explicitly based on a “caste-no-bar” criteria. The following analogy might help in understanding the difference between reservations and affirmative action.
When economic reforms were introduced in 1991, there was a movement away from the inefficient and prone-to-corruption industrial licensing and quota system (who can produce what and how much) to an incentive-based price system. Time now to move away from an inefficient, corrupt quota-based system to an economic-need system. Why corrupt? Consider this: The OBCs were 31 per cent of the population in 1931, 36 per cent in 1999, and 41 per cent in 2004. In these five years, the OBC population grew at an annual rate of 4.4 per cent.
Note that the growth rate of the Hutterites, who do not practise birth control and have an average fertility rate of nine children per woman, has never exceeded 4 per cent a year. It is biologically not possible, not even for Mandal fecund OBCs. So what happened? In order to obtain the irrational government mandated manna, non-OBCs simply changed their caste. More and more castes, economically deserving or not, joined the umbrella OBC category.
If you look at the data (see “Reservations: Half Pregnant Constitution, Half Pregnant State”, iexp.in/AMK207461), it turns out that OBCs, the largest beneficiary group of government job quotas (27 per cent vs 23 per cent for SC/ STs), have incomes, education, etc, equal to that of the average Indian. Think about it, do you know of any system, anywhere, that aims to benefit the average person? The average and the rich are taxed to help the poor, the downtrodden, the needy. Yet, the self-proclaimed champions of the poor, the Congress and the left, want to continue with the discredited, discriminatory and damaging policy of caste-based reservations.
Muslims are the biggest losers from our reservation policy, the policy that Bhagwat rightly wants reviewed. The average educational attainment level of Muslims in 2011-12 (NSS data) was 8.6 years, compared to 8.4 years for SCs, 8.1 years for STs and 10.6 years for Hindu OBCs. Yet, only 11 per cent of OBC Muslims with more than Class X education held government jobs, versus 21 per cent of SCs, 38 per cent of STs and 23 per cent of OBC Hindus. While religion cannot be used as a criteria for education policy, caste is. But it appears that religion is the criteria used by the government to deny Muslims their rightful jobs in government. And “government” here is not Modi’s BJP (2011 data), but the liberal Congress governments of decades past — including the Hindu one-time Congressman who is the hero of the OBCs: V.P. Singh, of Mandal infamy.
The writer is chairman, Oxus Investments, and contributing editor, ‘The Indian Express’