The rationale for reservation for a category of people is the failure of a society to ensure social justice for the various categories of people. (PTI File Photo)
The debate on the bill reserving one-third of the seats of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies for women was peppered with arguments in favour of reservation for women belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Now that the bill has got the support of parties across the spectrum, it is a question of time before the demand for reservation for OBCs in legislatures, on the lines of that being provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, raises its head.
The Constitution of India started with a promise of securing for all citizens social, economic and political justice. India made early attempts to secure social justice by introducing reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in education and in employment as well as a quota in legislative bodies. Some 40 years later, the country followed it up by extending reservation for OBCs in admissions and in jobs with the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. The demand for reservation for OBCs in legislative bodies is a natural follow-up step.
The rationale for reservation for a category of people is the failure of a society to ensure social justice for the various categories of people. It is also founded on the premise that all people should have equal opportunities in a democracy. India has not yet conducted an official caste census to see if the OBCs are adequately represented in various arms of the State and hence we do not have the data on their representation. However, the impression one can get from the larger discussions is that the backward communities have never got what is due to them.
A primary step towards addressing the issue will be the formation of a commission on the lines of the Mandal Commission to study the level of representation of OBCs in legislative bodies. A caste census could throw light on the realities on the ground. Then we shall have the necessary data on representation.
While reservations ensure a reasonable representation of all sections of people in the machinery that runs the nation, it cannot be the be-all and end-all of any political project. The Constitution provided for reservation for SCs and STs in legislative bodies for 10 years with the hope that the polity will rejuvenate itself at the grassroots level and bring up people from the most oppressed classes to the forefront of political activity. Reservations then will no longer be needed for their adequate representation. However, 73 year later, we have not moved much farther though the Supreme Court is all set to examine if the periodic extension of the reservation of seats for SCs/STs in LS and Assemblies is constitutional or not.
It is only so much that the Constitution and the law can do to ensure social justice. It is ultimately a political problem that must be solved politically. But until such time, constitutional and legal remedies are the only option. It’s time the nation started thinking along those lines.