Congress wants to show with actions in Parliament that
they do not need the paralysing protection of others. While everybody
was talking about coal scams and portraying of Prime Minister in poor light in an American daily, they succeeded in managing a coup by way of tabling a contentious constitutional amendment—the 117th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2012—in the upper house on reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in promotion in government jobs. They tried to play with the gallery knowing full well they won’t be able to get the Bill passed in the current session of parliament, thanks to saffron barricade. It was a good tactical diversion that failed.
‘Reservation’ has become an integral part of political thinking and practice for almost all polticial parties, barring the left, of course. As the Bill, was all about SCs and STs the main opposition—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—that was spearheading the attack on coal scam and prime minister’s resignation—simply ignored the ‘minor’ issue, again as a diversionary ploy to make things difficult for the Congress. Quite expectedly the mandalites were not happy while the self-styled liberator of the dalits—the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh—was equally unhappy as she slammed both the Congress and BJP for failing the SCs and STs. The mandalites didn’t oppose it in principle, possibly apprehending a backlash in vote market in UP but they might have thanked the BJP in private, for blocking its passage by stalling the proceedings in parliament.
The quota within quota syndrome is a nice way to accommodate the advanced and creamy layer of SC and ST communities into what is known as mainstream elite club. The Samajwadi Party, otherwise a UP phenomenon in the main, opposed the Bill on the ground that it didn’t cover Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Much to the dismay of Congress, DMK, its key southern ally, that has been blowing hot and cold in the Sonia Gandhi scripted UPA-II drama ever since the unearthing of 2G-scam two years back and its impact on the Dravidian Party’s electoral fortunes, backed Samajwadi Party’s objection, hopefully as a bargaining chip with the Congress. They are trying to win what they have lost—credibility and clean image—in mainstream politics. What all the Congress hoped to create at this critical juncture was some space for the blame game and they got it. The underlying issue in the end, however, remains the same—how to engineer public diversion. Scam, Quota and now back to Quota!
The beneficiaries of quota culture are not small in number. But this has hardly improved the lot of majority of the dalits. The caste-lords who thrive on caste prejudices politically and economically are not sincere enough to annihilate caste. In truth they practise a kind of reverse casteism to keep the age-old institution in place. In more ways than one their caste-based fiefdoms look more like princely states of yester years. Princely states are dead, Long live princely states!
Caste-lords never demand work for all, decent living standards for all and job opportunities for all. No they won’t demand that. They would like to move in a circle, all the time, burning midnight oil, to have the right caste equation in vote market.
For one thing it is not that easy to get such a bill passed without consensus. The 117th amendment was aimed at restoring the quota in promotions in government jobs for SCs and STs that was struck down by courts in successive judgements. In case it is again challenged in court, the possibility of which is very much there the exercise will be simply back to square one.
With general election approaching all are in search of issues that could translate sectarian grievances into vote. For the BJP it is corruption, more precisely corruption in the Congress family. For the Congress any issue other than corruption. And for the caste-lords it is reservation that now incorporates the muslim minority question as well.
Caste question always gets focused under one pretext or another, round the year, particularly in north India. And yet there is no let up in atrocities against SC and ST people who are mainly toilers, having no knowledge as to how to cross the below poverty line mark.
Communists of all shades talk about national peculiarities and concrete analysis of concrete conditions before launching their action programmes. But they never addressed this problem, rather an Indian variant of racism, again the hard social reality. As for communal problems their idea is to ignore them or downplay them while showing a little bit of indulgence towards minority communalism, to have progressive label easily. They think they could abolish these social evils simply by avoiding them for the sake of a ‘greater cause’—revolution.
How caste in the Indian context is related to class is a complex question that defies solution for decades. Caste annihilation without class struggle is a utopia and yet caste-lords won’t accept it as they are out and out anti-marxist. For all these years communists have been banking on development of productive forces and natural withering away of caste and communal biases and social conflicts stemming from them. But this withering away is a far cry.
The champions of caste and religion based reservation are not against the exploitative system. So long as ‘reservation’ remains a false notion of dalit empowerment the persons in power have nothing to lose. India is one nation with many societies. No doubt Jagjivan Rams are coming and going and multiplying but the situation for the vast majority of SC and ST people is worsening with every passing day. Class question has not taken roots in dalit discourse and yet these Yadavs, Paswans, Mayawatis think they could liberate their oppressed communities without doing anything revolutionary and refusing to go beyond the status quo in a broader sense. Quota is no answer to mass impoverishment and mass deprivation.
Given the mounting global attack on every aspect of life—social, economic and political—it is next to impossible to feel secure even if a few people get promotion through reservation in government hierarchy. Then it is equally impossible for the caste lords to think in terms of 99% vs 1% as it would jeopardise their very own class interests.
Vol. 45, No. 10, Sep 16 -22 2012