Having read the Organiser interview with Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the RSS, I am left scratching my head. Going by media reports, one expected an interview devoted to the issue of reservations and making strong recommendations. What one found instead was a long conversation on the relevance of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and his philosophy of "Integral Humanism".
Much of the interview is abstract and stream-of-consciousness. The subject of reservations comes up twice. First, there is a long question: "In political science it is taught that pressure groups make democracy vibrant. Panditji (Upadhyaya) believed that we need to take care of each other's interests and move forward. How [do] you see agitations such as demand for 'One Rank, One Pension' or reservations from the Integral Humanist perspective?"
Bhagwat gives an elaborate answer wherein he says, "Interest groups are formed because we have certain aspirations in democracy. At the same time, we should remember that through interest groups we should not strive to address those aspirations at the cost of others. We should have integral approach of welfare for all. It is sensible to realise that my interest lies in larger national interest. Government also has to be sensitive to these issues - that there should not be any agitations for them." He cites all this as necessary for "harmonisation of interests".
Second, there is the question, "You said integrity and honesty are the main parameters. Do you see any such policy initiative, undertaken or suggestive, which is in tune with Integral Humanism?"
Bhagwat brings up reservations as worthy of praise: "Reservation for socially backward classes is the right example in this regard. If we would have implemented this policy as envisaged by the Constitution makers instead of doing politics over it, then present situation would not have arrived. Since inception it has been politicised. We believe, form a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality, including some representatives from the society, they should decide which categories require reservation and for how long. The non-political committee, like autonomous commissions, should be the implementation authority; political authorities should supervise them for honesty and integrity."
What is the political message, if any, of these remarks? Far from calling for an abolition of reservations, one got the impression that Bhagwat was, gently and in a roundabout manner, expressing dissatisfaction at patently non-backward groups, such as perhaps the Patels of Gujarat, raising the demand for reservation. He was urging, as others have, that the call to judge a community as a member of the OBC category should be de-politicised and left to a professional body, which could comprise social scientists such as sociologists and economists.
Of course, Bhagwat did not specifically say this, and this writer is only making an interpretation. Yet, prima facie, there is nothing wrong with suggesting such an approach. Having said that, such as approach is simply impracticable in today's politics. No politician or political group is going to surrender the right or the privilege to demand, agitate for and accord OBC or other category status that brings a community under the ambit of quotas.
Even within communities and castes that do get reservation, the issue of identifying the "creamy layer" and of deleting a family that has benefited from quotas for two or three generations from future reservations has sometimes been discussed (though, to clarify, this was not a point made by Mohan Bhagwat in his interview), but this too is politically untenable.
The fact is while reservation for Dalits/Scheduled Castes in the 1950s had a moral and economic logic, the manner in which the Mandal Commission report got implemented and the subsequent accretion in the OBC list has left a lot to be desired. The historical deprivation or current economic conditions of a Yadav (OBC) farmer in western Uttar Pradesh and a Musahar (Dalit) in Bihar just may not be comparable. Nevertheless they get the same standing in the reservation platform.
Can one rationalise and add or subtract families or groups from the reservation scheme? Desirable and theoretically achievable as this may be, it is politically and practicably a no-hoper. As jobs become more competitive, especially given the one million India will be adding to the job market every month for the next 20 years, the ability to take a short-cut to government employment by using a quota will hold understandable appeal. The situation is no different in higher education, among the final holdouts of India's shortage economy. Appalling regulation has ensured demand far outstrips supply, especially in fields like medical education.
If reservations have to become less attractive and if a sober rather than polemical debate around quotas is to result, then the private-sector job market and higher education institutions have to start growing and thriving as they never have. That is a long way off; as such, so is the end of quota raj.
(The author is senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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