May 08, 2022

Necessity and Limitation of Reservations In Achieving Social Equality

B V Raghavulu

ISSUES related to reservation have been cropping up in various parts of the country. Various groups are agitating in different states for their sectional demands. To further their electoral interests, bourgeois political parties, directly or indirectly, are promoting these sectional agitations and demands. Especially the RSS has been assiduously utilising these issues, not out of any love for the weaker sections, but as a part of their social engineering strategies to penetrate into different castes and communities for its project of strengthening Hindutva ideology. Judiciary is also introducing new controversies and problems through its interventions. On the whole, while the utility of reservations is declining, the clamour for more reservations is increasing. This is the irony of the situation.


CPI(M)’s Policy on Reservations

Indian constitution provides a series of provisions to help SC, ST and other weaker sections of the society to achieve social equality and justice. Articles 330, 332, 243D, 243T provide for political reservations. Articles 15, 15(4), 16(4) and 29(2) provide reservations in education and employment. Article 17 abolishes untouchability. Article 338 provides for the National Commission for SC and ST’s. To further the spirit provided in the constitution for realising social justice, SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act was enacted in 1989. SC, ST Special Component Plan was introduced into the budget after 1975, but was diluted after the BJP came into power. In spite of the presence of various commendable provisions in the constitution, the goal of the realisation of social justice for the weaker section is still far away because of the lack of political will in the Indian ruling classes. After the assumption of power by communal Manuvad BJP at the centre, frontal attack is being launched to dilute the spirit of the constitution. These communal forces are trying to scuttle the utility of reservations in many dubious ways. Unless these attempts are fought back, the weaker sections are in a real danger of losing the benefit of reservations.

 The CPI(M) has viewed reservations as the minimum relief offered to those sections of society who have historically and socially suffered the worst oppression, albeit within the confines of and in the interest of protection of capitalist relations. It is not meant for social emancipation as is presented by the ruling class.

CPI(M) also views reservations as having a democratic content as far as it helps loosen the traditional basis of caste and as far as it facilitates in heterogenising the social base of different classes by providing some scope for social mobility to the ‘lower-castes’, however small their number may be.

That is why, CPI(M) supports reservations in jobs and education for the SCs, STs and OBCs as a temporary relief, at the same time, demands radical land reforms and breaking-up of wealth concentration and inclusive economic development as a long term solution for achieving social equality.

CPI(M) is strongly against those who are demanding the removal of reservations in the name of efficiency, merit and equality.

CPI(M) supports: all those demands for reservations which are based on genuine social backwardness criteria; the demand of extending reservations to those sectors and departments of government where they are not being implemented now; the demand for reservations in private sector; all the demands which are aimed at redressal of inequities in implementing reservations; the demand for reservation in promotions; the principle of categorisation wherever intra-category inequities between member castes in availing the benefits of reservations become palpable; the introduction of  creamy layer/economic criteria for OBC reservations considering the noticeable differentiation that developed in OBC castes, so that those who really need will get benefited. At the same time, we are not in support of the demand for creamy layer/economic criteria for the SC, ST’s as there is no appreciable/sustainable internal differentiation in these communities.

CPI(M) opposes the provision of caste-based reservations for upper and dominant castes. As an exception, we supported the extension of reservations for economically weaker sections (EWS) among upper-castes and dominant castes, although it is not based on the criteria of social backwardness, for the reason that it may help in mitigating the anti-reservation sentiments among the poor that belong to unreserved groups and thus help in preserving class unity.

CPI(M) opposes the demand for allocation of reservations to every caste or social group on the basis of its proportion to total population, the only exception being SC, ST’s. This demand implies abandonment of social backwardness as the basic criteria for offering reservations to any group and introduction of a simple arithmetic calculation, which covers up the obnoxious social hierarchy of caste system.



Results of Implementation of Reservations

The experience and the results of the implementation of reservations during the last seven decades of independent India can be summarised as follows:

1) Reservations have catalysed spread of education among socially disadvantaged communities. They have provided some scope for social mobility for persons from these groups through the employment in government and public sector and through political positions in legislative bodies.

2) But reservations have not benefited all the needy sections of these disadvantaged groups. Only a minuscule part of them gained, producing a small middle-class. Even among the castes of the same group, most populous and relatively advanced caste has grabbed most of the benefits of reservation. As a matter of fact, reservations benefited only the relatively better-off families and thereafter kept on benefiting only them, increasingly excluding the needy ones. Vast mass of the socially disadvantaged people are still haunted by poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, unemployment, oppression and discrimination in their daily life. It becomes apparent that reservations are simply a mechanism for social mobility for a few people and not for achieving social equality as is being claimed by many votaries of identity politics.

3) Even the limited usefulness of reservations has been diminishing after the advent of neoliberal economic policies. Education and employment opportunities in public sphere have been shrinking because of privatisation and dismantling of public sector, contractualisation of labour, mechanisation and the resulting jobless development and commercialisation of education. Hence, the space for implementing reservations is daily becoming narrow.

4) As a remedy for the shrinking opportunities, introduction of reservation in private sector is demanded by the social movements. CPI(M) also strongly supports this demand. But the private sector is bitterly opposing this proposal. Even if the demand for reservation in private sector is conceded, the benefit will be limited and there will be no fundamental change because the jobs available in the organised private sector would be meagre when compared to the vast masses of job seekers from the oppressed social groups.

5) As the size of reservation pie is shrinking, competition for a better share in that diminishing resource has been escalating among different groups of weaker sections. The result is increase in contradictions and conflicts between different sections and castes for cornering the available meagre resources. This led to the emergence of demands for reservations from new sections and for categorisation of existing quota of reservations for equitable distribution.

6) As a consequence, based on these demands related to reservations, agitations and movements have been proliferating. Caste and social identity have become the main factors of mobilisation in these agitations.

7) The small elite/educated middle-class that emerged benefiting from reservations, instead of working for the upliftment of the mass of their own people, is engrossed in their own promotion and betterment of their families. Identity politics serve their purpose best. That is why, the organisations they promote, the agitations they conduct remain confined to the issues of reservation and representation. They have limited their politics to bargaining with ruling classes as a stepping stone for their political and social mobility. This is leading to the co-option of a small layer of these social groups into ruling classes and thereby strengthening the influence of ruling classes among the marginalised sections.

8) Ruling classes also use reservation as a strategic tool to manipulate masses. They encourage demands and mobilisations for reservations whenever they feel it will be useful to them as a means to consolidate vote banks or as instruments to disrupt class unity or as a diversionary means from peoples material problems. Bourgeois parties seek to utilise reservations as an instrument for perpetuating caste divisions and identity politics based on caste.

9) Although by their very nature, reservations are not a policy that can achieve social equality/social justice, Indian ruling classes successfully created the false hope that weaker sections can escape their social inequality gradually through reservations under this system itself. Taking advantage of these illusions, the State relinquished its fundamental obligation of providing basic services like health care, education, jobs, land and other assets etc to the mass of the weaker sections.  


Reservations and other policies pursued in the name of social justice by the Indian ruling classes in independent India initiated a contradictory process of change in the existing caste system.

They, on the one hand, affected the partial dissolution of the traditional basis of the caste/social group and on the other, helped their consolidation on a new basis of identity formation.

They led to differentiation in relatively homogeneous castes and social groups by introducing class divisions and inequalities. This helps on the one hand, in loosening the traditional unity based on homogeneous conditions of the caste and at the same time creates conditions for strengthening the grip of new elite that is created by these policies.

They also lead to hitherto relatively socially homogeneous classes to transform into socially heterogeneous groups by the inclusion of members from hitherto excluded groups introducing diversity into the class based on social difference.

This contradictory process is actually a transformation/readjustment of the caste system to the needs of capitalism and thereby increasing the grip of the ruling classes on these social groups. That is why the struggle for elimination of caste system has now merged with that of the overthrow of capitalist system.

Overall, for the oppressed social groups, reservations’ motivational impact is more than the actual physical benefits; for the ruling classes, it becomes one of the important peaceful instruments to assure the reproduction and perpetuation of capitalist relations; for the revolutionary movement, its contradictory nature introduces complexities in building class unity.