ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Divide to Rule

It is wrong to argue that new caste-based groups can be accommodated by renegotiating the political covenant ('Reservations and the Return of Politics', December 8, 2007). It is by extending reservations to ever new social fragments that the Indian state has neglected the real poor who transcend labels.

DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 1, 200877C P Bhambhri ( is national fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi.Divide to RuleC P Bhambhri It is wrong to argue that new caste-based groups can be accommodated by renegotiating the political covenant (‘Reservations and the Return of Politics’, December 8, 2007). It is by extending reservations to ever new social fragments that the Indian state has neglected the real poor who transcend labels.Susie Tharu et al in their contribu-tion ‘Reservations and the Return of Politics’ (December 8, 2007) have stated that “caste-based reservations” are an “important site of political contest” be-cause reservations have emerged “as only the most visible site of contestation”. Fur-ther, because of the drama of democracy “new caste-based groups” have emerged on the public scene and with a view to “accommodate” them, a need has arisen for the “renegotiation of the political con-venant” or in other words, for an updating of the original constitutional requirement of reservations for the SCs and STs. A new agenda for public policymakers has emerged. The article goes on to say that “…if there is to be a social contract at all, it will have to be negotiated anew, and in this new round of negotiations, many more interests will be represented and will have the opportunity to voice their concerns in the first instance”. Further, “a politics in which castes are asserting their right to power” can be institutionalised through such a “renegotiated social con-tract”. Tharu et al view India as a “caste-divided society” and say that the “old” and “new” caste groups have a “right to be shareholders in the exercise of political power” which can be ensured by continu-ing and expanding the catchment area of “reservations in public institutions”.Tharu et al seem to accept the claim made by dominant western social science theorists that institutional mechanisms of democracy provide full opportunity to multiple and varied groups to compete for political power with a view to protect and promote their political interests and rights. Further, multiple groups in a democracy enjoy freedoms to launch struggles for the promotion of their spe-cific demands and for seeking special political rights for the exercise of political power. The essence of democratic politics lies in the opening of new opportunities for both the historically neglected and the new emerging groups to participate and compete for a share in power for govern-ance. The post-independence Indian state has followed a gradual policy of accom-modation of multiple jatis and ‘up-jatis’ (sub-castes) and the caravan of caste-based reservation is moving forward. If the V P Singh government in 1990 “opened” the gates of public institutions to the other backward castes, the UPA gov-ernment has provided reservations to the backward castes in centres of higher edu-cation managed by the central govern-ment. It is not only the central govern-ment, the state governments are also exer-cising their right to include multiple jatis and up-jatis in reserved categories.The best example can be seen in Tamil Nadu where the state government is always engaged in expanding the system of reservations to include varied castes and the Supreme Court is currently hear-ing a case on the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institution) Act 2006, because the bone of contention is that the state government has proposed 69 per cent of reservations in educational institutions and the Supreme Court has always put a ceiling of 50 per cent. The state government defended its policy of 69 per cent reserva-tion before the Supreme Court by submit-ting that the “BCs form 88 per cent of the state’s population who are suffering from social and educational backwardness for many years” (The Hindu, January 11, 2008). The Indian state has not only shown great receptivity to the idea of caste-based reservations, it has also estab-lished special institutions to over-see the reality of implementation of policies of reservation. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes, and the backward caste commissions in various states have been created to keep an eagle’s eye on the actual implementation of specific caste/group based reservation. The caravan of reser-vations is marching forward to accommo-date not only individuals belonging to caste-divided society but also the religion- divided society.The UPA government appointed the justice Sachar Commission to look into
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 1, 200879because of the gender-divide and discrimi-nation suffered by women. Caste-divided, gender-divided and religion-divided society of India has to be provided a protective umbrella by the political and bureaucratic classes and one solution for all social dis-criminations and cleavages is the alladin lamp of caste-based or religion-based or gender-based policy of reservations.Anti-Poor AlignmentIt is time the problematic narrative men-tioned above is juxtaposedwithanother public discourse which is around an abso-lutely different definition of Indian socie-ty and an alternative politics responsive to fundamentally different concerns of FranzFanon’s “wretched of the earth or Karl Marx’s majority of rural and urban under classes who are the victims of exploitation and oppression by the social surplus appropriating ruling classes. Political and ideological champions of caste-based or religion-based reservations are completely aligned with the anti-poor Indian state. First, theUPA government decided to launch a very important and completely non-sectarian secular social programme, the National Rural Employ-ment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the middle of 2005 under which the real rural poor would get assured employment for 100 days. Jean Dreze has stated that the NREGS really “empowers the working class” and he has rightly warned that pre-cisely for this reason, this secular social programme is under “danger”. It deserves to be clearly stated that this programme for the empowerment of rural labourers can end up as a political stunt because unlike the pro-reservation powerful groups, the NREGS does not have any sup-port from any powerful social and poli-tical constituency. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme of the government is in the doldrums because powerful political constituencies are not interested in sup-porting a programme for “mass literacy”. Second, the ‘Report on Conditions of Work and Programme of Livelihoodin the Unorganised Sector’ (2007) has clearly shown that the absolute majority of rural and urban classes are oppressed and exploited and the reason for this is that the “deprived strata of society” are political orphans.The report states that “This universe of informal workers now constitute 92 per cent of workforce and 77 per cent of the population with a per capita daily con-sumption of up to Rs 20 (in 2000-05) whom we have called ‘Poor and vulnera-ble’ ”. The number of persons belonging to this group increased from 811 million in 1999-2000 to 836 million in 2004-05. Further, “on the employment front, the low rate of growth during 1993-94 and 1990-2000 gave way to a higher growth rate of employment during 1999-2000 to 2004-05 but the additional employment created during this period was entirely informal whether in the unorganised or organised sector”. G S Bhalla in his talk at the Indian Society of Labour Economics on December 15, 2007 titled, ‘Globalisa-tion and Employment Trends in India’ says that (a) “a major proportion of the increase in employment is in self-employment”, (b) “the income levels of most of the infor-mal workers are rather low-the casual workers and self-employed have very low incomes”. Bhalla adds, “No wonder, the incidence of poverty among all non-formal workers is significantly higher than that among formal workers”.State’s EscapismIt should become clear that the social sci-ence theorists of group interest and group rights along with public policymakers of the Indian state have self-consciously created a situation of solidification and consolidation of social divisions by follow-ing a policy of selective reservations for “groups” identified on the basis of “status of birth”. The Indian state by following a policy of extending patronage to “social fragments” on the basis of reservations has escaped performing its duties towards the rural and urban underclasses who transcend the “categories defined by birth” and belong to the army of the oppressed and the exploited. Caste-based policy of reservations based on “quota system” has institutional-ised complete fragmentation of society and the real victims of neglect are the real poor, a social category which cuts across religion, caste or region. The policy of quota-based reservations comes into direct clash with the real problems faced by the real poor who transcend every label. The Indian state has felt comfortable in accommodating demands of reserva-tions which have arisen out of inter-caste or intra-caste competition. But on purely class issues concerning the really exploited labouring productive classes, neither the Indian state nor the theorists of group rep-resentation show any interest or concern. Hence, defenders of reservations have been successful and the majority of the exploited working classes are left to fend for themselves. This is the policy of caste-based reservation because success is assured by divide and rule.STATEMENT about ownership and other particulars of newspaper ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY as required to be published in the first issue of every year after the last day of February.FORM IV (See Rule 8)1 Place of publication: Mumbai2 Periodicity of its publication: Weekly3 Printer’s name: K Vijayakumar for Sameeksha Trust Whether citizen of India: Yes Address: 504, G-2 Sphene, Moraj Residency, Sector 16, Sanpada, Navi Mumbai-400 7054 Publisher’s name: K Vijayakumar for Sameeksha Trust Whether citizen of India: Yes Address: As above5 Editor’s name: C Rammanohar Reddy Whether citizen of India: Yes Address: Flat 2001, Daffodil, Neelkanth Gardens, Bhaktakavi Shivjibhai Devshi Road, Govandi (E), Mumbai 400 0886 Name and address of individuals who Sameeksha Trust, own the newspaper and partners or Hitkari House, shareholders holding more than 284 S B Road, one per cent of the total capital: Mumbai - 400 001 I, K Vijayakumar, hereby declare that the particulars given above are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.Mumbai (K Vijayakumar)March 1, 2008 Signature of Publisher

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