Reservation, Religion, Coalition

Caste question comes in many forms. There is blatant caste prejudice and bias that is prevalent in north India. Then there are those subtle brands of casteism that one sees almost daily but doesn't seem to notice until it is brought to public attention by way of some tragedy, reported in the media. Given the compulsion of electoral politics ruling parties and opposition parties as well have no option but to resort to their time-tested practice of reservation and religion to win votes. They are moving in a vicious circle keeping voters in good humour all the time. With the passage of fresh quota bill in both houses of parliament, Modi and his cheerleaders who looked demoralised yesterday due to poll reverses in three crucial states of north India, now look jubilant. Congress murmured over the bill for its timing but failed to oppose it. The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to provide 10 percent reservation in government jobs and admission in higher educational institutions to the poor among upper caste people. Reservation means politics of caste. And the law makers were cautious enough to make it clear that by guaranteeing 'social justice' to the economically deprived sections of the so-called higher castes, they were not going to curtail the interests of the existing reservation beneficiaries like scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Other Backward Castes(OBCs). As parliamentary polls are just 100 days away, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks desperate to expand its shrinking National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and cover up its failures on almost every front. Whether the Bill will pass legality in the apex court is open to question. In truth an NGO has already challenged it citing the 1992 Indira Sawhney case that forced the court to order the 50 percent ceiling limit in reservation while excluding economic status as a sole criterion. Then Tamil Nadu provides 69 percent reservation and Maratha community has been given 16 percent reservation in Maharashtra. But the million dollar question is where will the jobs come from? Even BJP minister in Union Cabinet Nitin Gadkari is on record saying that there are no substantial jobs being created in the economy. Job Reservation without creation of jobs is sheer hypocrisy without limitation. The Council for Monitoring Indian Economy noted a week ago that India has lost 11 million jobs only in 2018, thanks to demonetisation and digitisation and half-baked GST. As things are this reservation above 50 percent cap may be struck by the Supreme Court if it is seriously contested. Ex-facie it is bad in law.

The debate over new quota is wide open. It is yet another tactic to indulge in cheap populism without any substance. The government is silently preparing the economy more compatible to cashless system and making notorious Aadhaar mandatory by the backdoor. The architect of this anti-national mischievous project called Aadhaar Nandan Nilikeni who once contested election on Congress ticket and lost has been appointed by the Reserve Bank of India to expedite the process of cashless payments.

It's irony of history that the BJP that bitterly fought the reservation politics of VP Singh, particularly when VP earnestly tried to implement the Mandal Commission Report in part is now itself advocating reservation for votes because development plank doesn't sell. This election-driven move by Modi may prove costly for BJP. False promises made by Modi during and after 2014 parliamentary polls have begun to backfire.

No doubt they are less aggressive these days on the temple issue but after reservation it is religion that matters in BJP's electoral calculus. The ball is in the court. And the players are dodging it well in the midfield without allowing the situation to drift towards chaos. Legal niceties in relation to temple-mosque dispute at this juncture suits BJP's election managers well—temple can wait, not the 2019 parliamentary poll which is knocking at the door. The Supreme Court on January 10,2019 decided to constitute afresh the five-judge Constitution bench to hear the temple-mosque land title dispute in Ayodhya after a judge, Justice U U Lalit, relieved himself from the hearing. As for temple the mainline saffronites seem to be buying time while engaging saints and mahants to keep communal passion burning.

Neither reservation nor religion will pose any serious threat to Modi's not-so happy family called NDA. The real threat is coming from North East, Assam to be precise. Already BJP's allies and coalition partners in the state are deserting over the amendment of the Citizenship Bill, mandating exclusion of muslims, not hindus, more precisely non-muslims including Sikhs and Chirstians from the citizenship roster. The BJP is in a hurry to consolidate hindu vote because most people have lost faith in Modi's development demagogy. So they are busy to rediscover virtue in regional parties. Faced with troubled waters in the south in choosing regional partners the BJP is now sending olive branch even to its bitter critics. Regionalists are at worst bargainers, they do not bother about ideology. Here money talks and Modi is talking about liberal doles to be offered to regional satraps if they oblige him before or after the polls. In other words the BJP is not sure of how to form next government on its own.

Reservation, Religion and Coalition—all these three now get elaborately focused in every BJP rally. Election priority makes strange bed fellows and the BJP is in search of strangers even in their ideologically opposite camp. But the ghost of Assam Accord is back and wooing regionalists won't be that easy in the North East.

Vol. 51, No.29, Jan 20 - 26, 2019