Premkumar Mani: Savarna reservation will get stuck in court

It is not in keeping with the Constitution. It has many internal contradictions and is an attempt to stifle the basic spirit of the Constitution. First, the government should have set up a commission and then arrived at a decision based on its report. But rushing the Bill in this manner won’t stand judicial scrutiny

OBCs should get at least 45 per cent reservation

Renowned litterateur and former member of the Bihar Legislative Council Premkumar Mani argues that by giving reservation to poor savarnas, the BJP set a trap and then itself got caught in it. He also says that when 10 per cent reservation can be given to communities that form just 13-15 per cent of the population, the OBCs, which are 54 per cent of the population, should get at least 45 per cent reservation. Edited excerpts of an interview with him:

The Union government has decided to extend the benefit of reservations to poor savarnas. Your take?

It is not in keeping with the Constitution. It has many internal contradictions and is an attempt at stifling the basic spirit of the Constitution. At first glance, it appears riddled with problems. First, a commission should have been formed and the measure should have been enforced only after its report was submitted. This move of the central government will not stand judicial scrutiny. Another issue is that when 10 per cent reservation can be given to communities which form just 13-15 per cent of the population, the OBCs, which are 54 per cent of the population, should get at least 45 per cent reservation. There are many such issues. That is why I believe it will get stuck in court proceedings.

Premkumar Mani

On what basis do you say this?

The Supreme Court has already made it clear that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be tampered with. Despite this, such attempts are being made. In its judgment in the Indira Sawhney case, the Supreme Court had put a 50 per cent cap on reservations. That is why the move will not stand judicial scrutiny. When the Supreme Court has clearly stated that giving more than 50 per cent reservation would be unconstitutional, it is incomprehensible as to why such attempts are being made just for political expediency and why baseless arguments are being bandied about.

Then, what is the motive behind this entire exercise?

No Constitutional amendment that tinkers with the basic structure of the Constitution would stand judicial scrutiny. The Supreme Court has declared in its judgment in the Keshavananda Bharati case that the basic structure of the Constitution is inviolable. So, even if the Bill is passed, it will be open to challenge in the Supreme Court and given the present scheme of things, it will be shot down. It will thus end up as another election “jumla”. Earlier, the Narasimha Rao government made a similar attempt and that too was rejected.

What is the government’s motive behind this move?

The Modi government is trying to counter the campaign launched to mobilize savarnas for casting the ballot in favour of NOTA. The savarnas have been upset with Modi and the BJP ever since the government introduced a Bill to reverse the Supreme Court judgment on the SC-ST Atrocities Act. Anger among the savarnas was said to be one of the reasons the BJP lost the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls. The government and the BJP hopes that this new move will help them win back the support of the savarnas

Also read: Savarna reservation, Modi and a dampener for Ram Temple issue

 Will this douse the anger of the savarnas?

Only time will tell. Around 13 per cent of Indians are savarnas and they are in a position to influence the poll outcome in around 50 Lok Sabha constituencies. The government is also seeking to counter the various movements demanding reservations in different parts of the country through this move. This exercise will bring the poor among the Marathas and other communities within the ambit of reservations. But we will need to wait and watch.

What is your personal stand on the issue?

You see, I am not against (reservation for) poor savarnas. But I will raise the Constitutional, valid and morally justified demand for reservations in proportion to population. If the 50 per cent limit is breached, then the percentage of reservations for OBCs should also be raised.

In Bihar, Nitish Kumar constituted the Savarna commission. Earlier, Lalu Prasad and Karpoori Thakur had also announced that they were in favour of reservation for poor savarnas. What have to say about this?

My answer in one sentence is that we are not against reservations for poor savarnas – we only want reservations in proportion to population.

In your view, how much would this move help the BJP in the coming elections?

The BJP has got caught in its own trap. It has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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