People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 16, 2006
Reservations For OBCs: Motivated Opposition
THE bourgeois media is trying, once again, to create a gory frenzy a la that which accompanied the V P Singh government’s decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations for reservation in jobs for the OBCs in 1990. The whipping up of upper caste passions seeks to create a deep cleavage in large parts of our society.
On this occasion, the passions are sought to be roused on the issue of reservations for OBCs in educational institutions. It is necessary to briefly recount the sequence of events that has led to the present situation. Following certain judgements of the Supreme Court which stated that the policy of reservations can only be limited to government educational institutions, the parliament discussed the matter in great detail. There was a rare unanimity amongst political parties that the Constitution should be amended to ensure the provision of reservation in private educational institutions. The 93rd Constitutional amendment inserted a new clause – Article 15 (5) – to the Indian Constitution in January this year. This amendment was passed with a near unanimity in both the houses of parliament. This, thus, became the law of the land.
Having made the law, it is the duty of the executive, i.e., the government, to proceed with the required consequential actions. The amendment states that all educational institutions – private and government – will implement the reservation policy as enacted by parliament except those considered as minority institutions as defined by Article 30 of our Constitution. Following this, there is a need for a set of rules which will decide on the quantum of reservations and on the authority that will determine the status of institutions being minority institutions. The Constitutional amendment to Article 15 implicitly suggests that the decision on conforming the minority status is a decision that would be taken by the respective state assemblies as education figures inegatn the “concurrent list” of our Constitution. In any case, the follow-up of this Constitutional amendment has to be undertaken and that is precisely what has been going on. The media attention that this has now received, not when the amendment was passed in January, thus, appears largely motivated and biased.
Strangely, when reservations in jobs was announced in 1990, the outcry of opposition to it also came in the form of suggesting that reservations should first be made in education, so that these sections are equipped to fill the quota of reservations in jobs.
That the same sections today oppose reservations in education speaks volumes of their inherent upper-caste bias. This is further attested by the fact that currently, in an overwhelmingly large number of private educational institutions, there exists the system of capitation fee. What else is this, but a reservation for the rich! The only merit involved in this scheme is that of having enough money to literally buy admission. In some cases (quite large in number), private institutions offer seats to NRIs through virtually an auction process. The highest bidder wins. The complete absence of any consideration of merit in these cases is never questioned. Merit, however, becomes an issue when it comes to providing access to those who have been denied for centuries education.
Reservations continue to remain a contentious issue rousing frenzied passions when various sections vie for their claim of a shrinking cake. If education for all can be provided, then the issue of reservations simply ceases to be a bone of contention. Until this can be achieved, it is necessary to understand that Indian education has, for long, particularly since independence, been afflicted with the perennial quest to seek a proper balance in its eternal triangle – quantity, quality, equity.
While reservations definitely address the issue of equity, the issue of both quality and quantity also need to be addressed. There is an urgency to expand State-run educational facilities in order to address the problems of quantity while simultaneously to increase expenditures in providing high class educational infrastructure to tackle the issue of quality. A holistic approach of such a nature is absolutely imperative.
However, the issue of equity cannot be kept in abeyance until this balance is brought about in this eternal triangle. Quantity, quality and equity complement each other and are not in conflict as vested interests seek to deliberately project. The universal support that the 93rd Constitutional amendment received in parliament must be translated not only into public policy but also into a public approval by all the parties which have supported this move in the parliament.
Finally, it must be underlined that to achieve a proper balance between quantity, quality and equity in Indian education assumes greater importance considering that 54 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25. This is India’s future. If this youth can be both healthy and educated, this would be India’s greatest asset in transforming our country into a truly knowledge society. India has to rise above training personnel to man BPOs and call centres.
The Election Commission’s query to the government to explain how this does not violate the code of conduct is, thus, not merely unsustainable but is also yet another instance of applying double standards. If the follow-up action of a Constitutional amendment by the parliament is to be questioned as liable to influence voters, then do not the ongoing rath yatras of Advani and Rajnath Singh, which are rousing communal passions by stridently raising the issue of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya also influence the voters? On this, however, the Election Commission chooses to remain silent!
Instead of being caught in the crossfire of fratricide, let us all work towards expanding and strengthening our education system to ensure higher levels of quantity, quality and equity.