Rewards and reservations
By Kuldip Nayar
FOLLOWING the norms of democracy, the constituent assembly in India, justifiably, tagged the seats in the Lok Sabha and the assemblies to the number of voters in a particular state. The larger states secured more members and the smaller ones less. Little did the constitution framers realize at that time that such a provision would reward the states without family planning discipline.
This has, indeed, happened. Over the years, Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP have increased their strength in the Lok Sabha and the assembly on the basis of population. All the five states are Hindi-speaking. They are situated in the north of Vindhya Hills and the states are known as BIMARU. The non-Hindi speaking states have felt irritated over their getting more seats.
The 2000 census only confirms that the Hindi-speaking states continue to proliferate in population. They beat the country's annual growth rate of 1.9 per cent. Bihar's increase is 2.85 per cent, Haryana's 2.47, Madhya Pradesh's 2.18, Rajasthan's 2.49 per cent and UP's 2.3 per cent. In contrast, the five states down the Vindhyas are below the annual growth rate. Andhra Pradesh registers 1.3 per cent, Karnataka 1.59 per cent, Kerala 0.90 per cent, Orissa 1.48 per cent and Tamil Nadu 1.6 per cent.
Incidentally, the yearly growth of population in Assam, which is supposed to have changed its demographic complexion because of illegal migration from Bangladesh, is only 1.73 per cent, below the country's average. It proves the hollowness of the state governor's alarming report that the people from across the border are taking over Assam.
It is clear that the increase and decrease of seats in the Lok Sabha or the assemblies on the basis of population was not fair from the beginning. More voters should claim more representation. But a way has to be found if the dictum distorts the system.
Parliament has done well to amend the constitution and freeze the number of seats at the strength prevailing today. Still, Uttar Pradesh has 85 seats in the Lok Sabha and Bihar 54. The amendment evoked no opposition from any political party in parliament. Both houses approved it unanimously even during the stalled proceedings in the last session.
I recall when the draft amendment was placed before the standing committee of the home ministry, members from the Hindi-speaking states were as vociferous in their support as were members from the non-Hindi speaking states. None favoured the idea of population being the criterion.
Unfortunately the principle not to link seats with the population has not been applied to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The reserved seats for them may increase, lessening the number of seats in the general category. This is bound to create bad blood between the upper and lower castes. Tagging seats to the population is as reprehensible in the case of dalits and tribal people as in others. The National Democratic Alliance has played politics.
To my surprise, most MPs are unwilling to join issue on the point of watering down any concession for the dalits and the tribal people. Political considerations have come to weigh in the minds of members so much that their attitude is dictated by what is good for the caste, not society. Political parties do not want to take a stand which would annoy the scheduled castes and the tribes even remotely.
This brings us to the larger question of reservation. The extension to the law is given by parliament every 10 years, without any debate. It seems to suit all parties which have developed a vested interest in reservation because of electoral advantages.
When the legislation for extension of reservations in jobs and admissions to professional institutions came up for discussion a few months ago, I appealed to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was present in the house, to put a time limit on the reservations on the basis of caste. Let it be even 50 years, two per cent tapering off every year. Thus there would be an end to the pernicious practice one day. What was meant to last 10 years has already gone beyond 50 years and there is no end in sight. I argued that the criterion should be economic backwardness. Nobody seemed interested in my proposal.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the unchallenged dalit leader, who framed the constitution, was strongly opposed to reservations. He described them as crutches. He agreed to the provision only on the understanding that it would not be continued after 10 years. Today no party dares even to talk about it, much less suggest its modification.
Even the Supreme Court's advice that the creamy layer of the dalits should be debarred from availing itself of the concessions has been ignored. The dalit leaders, who constitute the creamy layer, are too powerful to allow anything which may give benefits to the lower half among the dalits.
With reservations for the backward, the problem has got still more tangled. A bigger front in favour of reservations has developed, although the dalits and the backward are generally at war with each other. The demand for reservation on one pretext or the other is increasing in the country, creating a strong feeling of inequality among those who are outside the periphery of reservation.
The young people are particularly resentful. They do not buy the argument that the present generation of Hindus must atone for the sins of discrimination practised for centuries." Even if it is so, 50 years should have been adequate for penance," argue the youth of upper castes.
The worst fallout is that the best, outside the charmed circle of reservation, are going abroad. They say that they do not get admission to professional institutions or government jobs because of reservations. Even the Supreme Court judgement that reservations should not go beyond 50 per cent of the tribal population has been flouted by some laws.
Affirmative action, as prevalent in the US to accommodate the coloured, is understandable in a democratic society but not permanent legislation on the basis of caste. Still worse is the reservation in promotions because the promotees under the rules have neither expertise nor acceptance. This is affecting work in government offices. Resentment against all this is rising. The sense of denial, accumulating day by day, may reach the flash point one day. It may wash away all kinds of reservation. The nation must have the best. That is the reason why the armed forces have not accepted reservations.
The bug of reservation has lately bitten some Muslim leaders, if not organizations. Once again there is the same old talk which one heard before partition. They seem to forget how the Hindu-Muslim problem got aggravated in the wake of separate electorates introduced by the British. The gap has not yet been bridged.
The unkindest cut comes from a Sikh member of the National Minorities Commission. He has asked the MPs of his community to join hands to demand more representation in different institutions in the country. The safeguards, which have been guaranteed to the minorities in the constitution, are the nation's obligation towards them. But representation on the basis of community may spell ruin to the nation's unity. If every community wants to articulate its own agenda, what happens to the country?
It is sad that parochial thinking is spreading all over the country - sometimes in the name of community, sometimes caste or something else. This is telling upon the country's pluralistic thinking, ethos and the character of the state. India may disintegrate if the trend is not stopped immediately.