Reservations: Question of Nation and Culture

Equality of opportunity versus special treatment, merit, quality, the national interest – they do not want us to extricate ourselves from the web of the same old, clichéd arguments and counter-arguments

If that report (Mandal report) is implemented properly, the centuries’ old Varna and Caste system is bound to collapse. That is why, the patrons of Varna system are gathering their forces for a final battle. This greatest battle in India’s history will be fought in the coming years.” – Mastram Kapoor, writer and political analyst.

The question of representation is not new to India. About 140 years ago, deposing before the first Hunter Commission (1872), Mahatma Jotiba Phule pleaded for adequate representation to Shudras-Atishudras in jobs through the instrument of reservations. And in 1902, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj added a new chapter to the history of social justice by granting 50 per cent reservations to backward communities in jobs in his princely state of Kolhapur. In modern India, the founding fathers of our Constitution gave primacy to social justice in the Preamble to the Constitutions. It was in keeping with constitutional provisions that the Backward Classes Commission was constituted twice but its report could implemented only in 1990. It is now more than 20 years since the implementation of OBC reservations in India but from the arguments being advanced by anti-reservationists, it seems that this is a very current issue. Equality of opportunity versus special treatment, merit, quality, the national interest – they do not want us to extricate ourselves from the web of the same old, clichéd arguments and counter-arguments. It is apparent from the social turmoil over the ‘new reservation rules’ of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) and the various court judgments that followed in its wake, that the challenges before the forces of social justice are turner more and more serious. This was clear from the pro-reservation and anti-reservation protests in Uttar Pradesh in July-August, 2013.

Uttar Pradesh: Logjam over reservations

As soon as the result of the ‘combined state upper / subordinate (mains) exams 2011’, held under the new ‘three-tier reservation formula’ devised by the UPPSC at its meeting on 27 May, 2013, was declared on 4 July, 2013, all hell broke loose. Under the ‘new reservation rules’ 270 reserved class candidates were declared successful against the general quota. The upper castes candidates moved the Allahabad High Court against the new rules and quickly began a protest right outside the High Court building. To bring pressure to bear upon the government and the court, the anti-reservationists took to violence. On 15 July many incidents of violence were reported from different parts of the state. The protestors not only targetted public property but also offices of the Samajwadi Party and homes of its leaders. Armed with lathis and sticks, thousands of Upper caste students stormed Allahabad. The media joined them in peddling the propaganda that the new rules were drafted only to benefit a certain caste (Yadav). They wrote “Yadav Loksewa Ayog” at the main gate of the UPPSC. The fact was that candidates of all SC/ST and OBC castes had cleared the exam in proportionately larger numbers. Since UP has a substantial Yadav population, hence the number of Yadav candidates was higher. Be that as it may, on July 26, Mulayam Singh Yadav held talks with the anti-reservationists. They were assured that the
“government supports the old rules and if the court shoots down the new rules, the government would not go in appeal”. This was hint enough for the bureaucracy. Overnight, the UPPSC withdrew the results based on the new rules.

Anti-reservationists target Krishna and cows

The anti-reservationists, during their agitation, indulged in some unheard-of activities. As soon as the government went on the back-foot on the issue, the anti-reservationists took out a victory procession in Allahabad. During this procession, cows and buffaloes were mercilessly beaten and vessels containing milk were upturned on the roads. The mob attacked a dairy called “Krishna’. The pictures of Krishna, hanging on the walls, were torn and trampled upon. The entire stock of milk and curd in the dairy was thrown on the road. How frenzied the mob was can be gauged from the fact that the Krishna dairy, which was attacked, is not owned any Yadav. It is owned by a Vaishya’ family and the owner is known as Gupta ji in the neighbourhood. The upper caste students selectively vandalized the shops where they saw pictures of Krishna hanging. When all this was going on, no one knows where the Hindutvadis, who keep on telling the backward castes that the cow is their mother and that Krishna was an incarnation of Vishnu, were hiding. Where were the sadhus, the sants, the mahants and the Shankaracharyas? The VHP, which was established for ‘Go Raksha’ (protection of the cow) is yet to react to these happenings. This, when Praveen Togadia’s house is also located in Allahabad.

Pro-reservationists sound the bugle

The victory procession of the anti-reservationists and the Akhilesh government dragging its feet on the implementation of the new rules forced the backward students, who were silent till then, to take to the streets. Thousands of OBC students demonstrated in Allahabad. Their number was so large that the government and the media were taken aback and the upper castes celebrating their victory were terrified. The protestors carried placards saying ‘No reservation, no vote’ and ‘General category is not the name of any caste,’ etc. These students announced that on 30 July, they would ‘gherao’ the Vidhan Sabha at Lucknow. On that date, around 20,000 students took out a march on the streets of Lucknow. They had come from different parts of the state. Lathis were rained by upper caste officials on the students, who were hoping that ‘their government’ would do justice to them. Despite the use of force, the pro-reservationists continued with their protest before the Vidhan Sabha for two days. On the second day, after his return from Chennai, the chief minister invited them for talks. The chief minister told the pro-reservation students in clear terms that the ‘Commission would declare results as per old reservation rules only’. Disappointed by the chief minister’s stance, the students decided to continue their agitation till the implementation of the ‘right reservation rules’. After their meeting with the Chief Minister at Lucknow, the pro-reservationists returned to Allahabad and intensified their Arakshan Bachao (Save reservations) campaign. On Mandal Diwas 7 August, they took out a candle march. Inspite of the bad weather, thousands of pro-reservation students gathered at Balsan square and marched to Subhash Chowk in a single file. During the entire agitation, the Hindi newspapers gave prominence to news related to the anti–reservationists while either blacking out or distorting the news of the activities of the pro-reservationists. Dainik Jagran did this most blatantly. During the march, the pro-reservationists attacked the office of Dainik Jagran and pulled down the newspaper’s hoardings etc. Several students and student leaders were arrested on the charge of attacking the newspaper office. They were released on bail on the eve of the 67th Independence Day and on the same day, the UPPSC announced the new results based on old rules.

The pro-reservation protests, spread to Lucknow from Allahabad. On 6 August, the ‘Bharati Vidhyarthi Morcha staged a huge demonstration in front of the Vidhan Sabha under the leadership of Vinod Kumar Tejyav, former minister and state director of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and JS Kashyaps. Dozens of other organizations also staged demonstrations. These included Ambedkar Mahasabha under the leadership of Dr. Lalji Nirmal, Bharatiya Yuva Sansad under the leadership of Amresh Yadav, Arakshan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti under the leadership of Avdhesh Kumar Verma and Rashtriya Bhagidari Andolan under the leadership of Sushil Chandra Gautam.

Movement of pro-reservationists continues

Despite the Uttar Pradesh government succumbing to the pressure of the upper castes, the OBC students have not given up. Significantly, the upper caste media shifted into the silent mode as soon as the pro-reservationists intensified their agitation. Now, it is carrying nether pro nor anti-reservation stories.

Going by the agitating students, their agitation would continue till the Lok Sabha polls and would also influence it. The pro-reservationists have decided to hold an OBC Mahapanchayat at Allahabad on 10 December.

The Akhilesh government might have gone back on the new reservation rules but it has shown a new way to the OBC students. Now it depends on them as to for how long and how strongly they can struggle for it. As of now, besides battling on the streets, the 270 reserved category students, affected by the government decision have also moved the court.

Published in the September 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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