September 27, 2015

RSS against Social Justice: Call to Review Reservations

Prakash Karat

THE RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for setting up a committee to suggest changes in the reservation policy was not a stray comment. In an interview to the RSS paper, The Organiser, Bhagwat had stressed the need for a review of reservation quotas to decide which categories require reservation and for how long. 

The RSS chief’s proposal should be seen in the background of the agitation of the Patels (Patidars) in Gujarat for inclusion in the OBC category.  Here again, the Patel agitation is actually a movement against reservation.  The leader of the agitation, Hardik Patel, has declared that either Patels be entitled to OBC reservation, or reservations as such be abolished.  This really means a negation of the provision of quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs. Because, if Patels are to be included as OBCs, being economically and socially dominant, then the concept of backward classes would lose all meaning.  What the Patel leadership is objecting to is the use of quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs to help close the gap between the dominant castes and others. The real aim of the agitation is to end the reservation quotas or make them infructuous by inclusion of more advanced and better off caste groups within the reservation quotas. 

Gujarat had seen anti-reservation agitations earlier too.  The 1981 and 1985 anti-reservation agitations had seen the Patel community as the mainstay.  The Patels who constitute 14 to 15 percent of the population is mainly a land owning community.  Amongst them are landlords and rich farmers who have been traditionally the chiefs (patels) of their villages.  Subsequently, the Patels have come to dominate the diamond industry, real estate and the groundnut oil industry.  By the late 1980s, the BJP had developed a strong base among the Patels which was preceded by the influence of the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad amongst them. 

The current agitation by the Patels has put the BJP state government and the party at the national level in a difficult situation.  The party’s solid base in Gujarat is revolting against the state government demanding OBC status.  The agitation has also pitted itself against other OBC and SC communities as seen in clashes which erupted in Ahmedabad after the August 25 rally. 

The Patel agitation has also exploded the myth of the Gujarat model of development.  The discontent of the Patels stems from the deepening agrarian distress.  Even well-off farmers have found it difficult to make profits through cash crops like cotton and groundnuts.  Farmers’ suicides have been mounting, even though the government has been denying this reality.  The social indicators like enrollment in higher secondary education, infant mortality and child nutrition have shown Gujarat lagging behind.  Though Narendra Modi had got large corporate investments, the type of industries that have developed have not been able to provide adequate  employment. 

It is the agrarian distress and narrowing job opportunities which have sparked off the Patel’s demand for quotas and being treated on par with the OBCs.  The Patel agitation is, thus, a striking indictment of the Gujarat model. 

Mohan Bhagwat’s plea for a re-look at the quota system and review of the reservation policy is a veiled attempt to placate the powerful Patel lobby.  It is also in keeping with the RSS and Hindutva’s hostility to reservation for backward classes and the lower castes that it had opposed the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendation for OBC reservation. 

Though the BJP essentially agrees with the RSS stand on reservation, Bhagwat’s public exposition of it, put them in an embarrassing position.  The Bihar elections are on and the BJP is trying to project Modi as an OBC and woo the backward vote. It was forced, therefore, to issue a statement disowning Bhagwat’s stand by stating that the BJP is not for reconsideration of quotas for OBCs, SCs and STs. The Sangh combine is, however, unrepentant.  A Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader has come out in opposition to caste-based quotas and demanded a judicial commission to consider fresh criterion. However, the people of Bihar will be able to see the socially reactionary face of the RSS-BJP combine.

The clamour against affirmative action for the socially oppressed (based on caste) is part of the overall rightwing offensive to rollback the secular, democratic and social justice provisions in the Indian Constitution.

The demand for inclusion of a dominant caste like the Patels in OBC category is an echo of similar demands arising in other states.  The Marathas, another dominant caste grouping in Maharashtra is also agitating for OBC status.  Earlier, Jats made the same demand in Haryana.  This reflects the failure of the overall growth model under the neo-liberal regime.  This neo-liberal capitalist growth does not generate sufficient employment and it sharply increases social and economic inequalities.  Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government asked for online applications for 368 posts of peons in the state secretariat.  In response, it received over 23 lakh applications. Of these, 1.5 lakh were graduates, 25,000 post-graduates and 250 Ph.Ds! In the desperation for jobs, even the lowly peon’s job is such that it is easy to pit one section of the people against the other since some are entitled to quotas in jobs.  This is a failure of the State and the capitalist system to generate sufficient employment opportunities.  Reservation for socially and educationally backward communities and oppressed castes is not the reason for unemployment or lack of educational opportunities. 

Neither is reservation a solution for the basic problems faced by the poor and deprived communities. Under neo-liberalism, due to privatisation, jobs in the reserved quotas in the government and public sector are steadily shrinking.  Therefore, while protecting the principle of affirmative action for the SCs, STs and backward communities, what is required is the common struggle of all the oppressed and exploited sections to change the existing iniquitous social and economic order.  Unity of the poor and deprived of all castes and communities to fight for an alternative, will be the way to ensure progress and advancement for all.