Rahul Gandhi Playing with Fire
The likes of Rahul Gandhi think that once caste-divisions take place, then the Hindu-rise will be halted and Modi defeated
The leaders of the so-called INDIA alliance are overconfident and thrilled that they have found a magic formula to defeat Modi and “eradicate” BJP. That formula is caste-based reservation. Basically an idea of Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who nurtures the dream of becoming India’s next Prime Minister through the general elections next year, it has been manifested by the caste-census in the state.
With the help of the higher judiciary, Nitish’s government did conduct the census and got its results out. For the moment, let us overlook the dubious methodology adopted in the census to give dubious results. And let us accept the results at their face-value. The results are that along with the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Other Backward Castes (OBC) constitute nearly 84 percent of the state’s population. The OBC count, including the EBC (Extreme Backward Caste), in Bihar is at 63.13 percent of the state’s population, according to the survey.
What, then, are the implications?
First and foremost, Nitish and his coalition partner Lalu Yadav family demand a similar country-wide caste- census. And the demand has got instant support not only from the Maulayam Singh Yadav’s family in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh but also, and this is most significant, Gandhi-family-controlled Congress, the party that has ruled India the longest (about 70 years) and proudly claims to be the one that brought the country independence.
Secondly, there will be now fresh demands for increasing the upper ceiling of the reservation in education and jobs, which the Supreme Court had fixed at 50 percent initially but agreed to extend it to 60 percent when the Modi government brought out an amendment for reserving 10 percent for economically poor among the so-called upper castes. In fact, now there will be demands that OBC candidates who have nearly 25 percent reservations in education and jobs at the moment should have the provision in political representation like their SC and ST counterparts. That means reservation of seats for OBC in legislatures, including Parliament.
But that is not all. If the demands of the pro-reservationists in the past are any indication, then this so-called socially empowering facility must be extended to the private sector. They now want that whether it is Tatas or Ambanis or Adanis or any IT czar like Narayan Murthy, the manpower in their enterprises must not be drawn from the meritorious but be inclusive of representatives of SC, ST and OBC.
Thirdly, though Nitish and Laloo have not said this openly, things that are in their minds and which they would love to be implemented have been vociferously advocated by Rahul Gandhi, the de facto Congress supremo. In all the public rallies that he is addressing these days – in fact now it has been formally approved by even the Congress Working Committee – Rahul is promising that if the Modi government is voted out, he would ensure that there would be not only countrywide caste census but also reservation based on population. That means that if the OBC constitutes 65 percent of the population, there must be 65 percent of reservations for them. His exact slogan is, “Jitni Abadi, Utna Haq”.
Fourthly, the unstated but obvious fact behind these demands is that the pro-OBC slogan would be the best political strategy to unseat Modi from power. Because, all told, Modi’s or for that matter BJP’s strongest political base happens to be Hindi-speaking states in general and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in particular. And these happen to be states where the OBC matter politically the most. After all, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar send as many as 120 members to the Lok Sabha. Add another 150 plus from other states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan and Haryana where the OBC presence is quite substantial.
The idea is that if the OBC can be wooed by the INDIA alliance in the aforesaid states, Modi can be easily defeated. Whether or not this strategy will work , of course, remains to be seen , given the facts that Modi himself is India’s first OBC Prime Minister, that majority of the BJP MPs and MLAs happen to be from the OBC ( it is perhaps not realized enough that the BJP has got the most OBC, SC and ST MPs), that the Modi government is the one that has given the OBC Commission the constitutional status, a long standing demand, and that majority of the Hindi-speaking states have had OBC chief Ministers. This is particularly true of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the likes of Lallo, Nitish, Mulayam and Akhilesh have ruled for years but without contributing much towards the OBC welfare and empowerment.
But then, the likes of Nitish or for that matter Rahul think that their strategy will work this time as it worked for former prime Minister VP Singh who implemented the Mandal Commission report to give the OBC reservation for the first time in 1990. In fact, they think that Hindus in India, who have awakened under the Modi regime to assert their legitimate political and other rights as equal citizens of the country and not remain dormant as second-class citizens under the long Congress rule, will get divided in terms of castes. And once these caste-divisions take place, then the Hindu- rise will be halted and Modi will be defeated, so runs their strategy.
Of course, only the results of the general elections in 2024 will tell whether this strategy will succeed or not. After all, OBC leaders under Modi, as noted above, have not done badly in politics. But Modi, unlike the likes of Nitish and Rahul, is opposed to divide the country in the name of castes and invite awful political, social and economic unrests in the country, and that too at a time when India’s profile is rising rapidly in the comity of nations.
As I have already pointed out above, the most unexpected votary of OBC politics is now Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party. It is even more surprising when the Congress party thinks that whatever is India today is because of the deeds and sacrifices of the Gandhi family – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, all late prime Ministers. But has Rahul realized what his father, grandmother and great grandfather had said about caste-based reservations?
Nehru had written a letter to Chief Ministers on June 27, 1961, in which the then Prime Minister had opposed quotas on caste and communal lines. “If we go in for reservations on a communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal consideration,” Nehru wrote.
“It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let’s help the backward groups by all means, but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?”, he had added.
Nehru had also opposed a caste census in 1951. Similarly, though the Janata Party government that came to power in 1977 had set up the Mandal Commission to consider the issue of OBC reservation, Ms. Indira Gandhi, after her comeback to power in 1980 put its report on the backburner when it was submitted to her in 1980. In fact, the same year, she coined a slogan to counter caste-based parties: “Na jaat par na paat par, mohar lagegi haath par (Vote for Congress and not on caste and community lines)”. Rajiv Gandhi also ignored the Mandal report. He had termed it as an attempt to divide the country on caste lines.
Secondly, caste-based reservations is bound to encourage inefficiency which already is high in our system. Imaginethat students scoring 98 percent in exams will not be able to get admissions or jobs in 85 percent cases, but under quota, OBC candidates with 50 percent will grab them. Any reservation based on social or historical criteria beyond a reasonable limit will undoubtedly affect efficiency adversely.
Thirdly, while one understands that these communities were treated badly in the past and reservations are like a cost our society must pay for a few years, perhaps a few decades if it has any pretense of undoing the effects of social and economic exploitation of the masses by a handful minority for over thousands of years, it cannot be a long term phenomenon unless one believes in a genetic theory of inefficiency and corruption.
Finally, nothing can be more perverse than demanding quotas based on a castle’s numerical number. It is a sign of development when one’s family is small and the population of the country or the state is under control. Imagine our states in South India and West India. They are developed because of their smaller population that is better educated and gainfully employed to generate wealth for the country. Now reservations based on population means that North India will have a bigger share of the national cake and governance.
In fact, the likes of Nitish and Rahul are encouraging the people in North India to produce more and more children to demand bigger shares. In other words, if in the name of social empowerment, there will be redistribution of wealth, jobs and political representations, then this wealth that is produced more by southern and western India will make its creators have a relook at India’s political map.
Economically too, there will be a pause in the creation of wealth that requires talent and hard work. Inefficiency associated with reservations will halt investments into India and the country’s business houses and industries may decide to shift their locations abroad.
In other words, caste-based reservations would be against national unity. It would escalate caste-based divisiveness and encourage sub-nationalisms by allowing them to be articulated in electoral politics.
Rahul Gandhi is playing with fire, indeed!