The Economics of Reservation and the Dysfunctional Question of Representation: Contextualizing the Exclusion of OBC’s

obc reservation

Overlooking the partial move, the rubber stamp institution of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) gave its nod for the central government’s appointed B. P. Sharma committee recommendations for incorporating the salary and the farm income while calculating the creamy layer within the OBC category. In the famous Indira Sawhney case, the highest court decided the creamy layer, a limitation of up to Rs. 5, 50,000 income which had been further increased up to Rs. 8, 00,000. The similar judgement also enacted the ceiling on the maximum reservation up to the 50% of overall vacancies. In the current dispensation, the central government has also decided to extend the limitation of creamy layer up to the Rs. 12, 00,000.

The decision of including salary and farm income into total income will have a major implication on the current beneficiaries of OBC reservation. It will throw out many of the current beneficiaries of OBC reservation. First of all, it should be clear that it is not for the first time that OBC reservation came into consideration. The openness of the OBC category always leaves an opportunity for the ruling parties to consider the inclusion of different communities as per their political requirements. Similar is the case with the division of Economically Backward Caste (EBC’s) and MBC’s (Most Backward Caste). The objective markers of deciding the categories are yet to decide.

The economic basis of reservation argues that the poverty and backwardness has no relation with the caste alone and the poor people can be found in any of the caste. This perspective is the actual bone of contention which doesn’t raise the concern of representation with the same zeal. In one of its judgement Supreme Court maintained that reservation is not the poverty alleviation scheme, but a way to ensure the representation of those communities which are underrepresented. However, the implementation of EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) quota uncovers the inclination of present government to make the reservation dysfunctional to address its neo-liberal agenda of privatization. It is not mere a coincidence, that when a strong Other Backward Caste movement was emerging for its share in the different institutions, the collapse of economic structure led to the opening of the economy.

The LPG regime didn’t only restrain opportunities for the underrepresented backwards, but it also hit them economically too. Liberalisation compelled the government to end the subsidies, provided to the different stakeholders, including the farmers. Most of the backward castes hold small landholdings.  Running out of educational achievements and representation, the OBC’s raised their voice for reservation.  They realised that agriculture can no more decide the future of their children. The old illusion of landed agricultural communities get vanished and education replaced the old criteria of merit.  The aspiration of a secure livelihood shifted the major chunk of the backward castes to the educational institutions which were the bastion of upper caste hegemony. The rising aspiration of the backwards was further supported by their political mobilisation on the ground.  The multiple dialectical processes of Mandal, Kamandal (Ram Janmabhoomi movement) and LPG determined the future of the emergent OBC politics. The implementation of the OBC reservation had never been an easy task. In spite of the government assurance, it further struck into the court. On the other hand, the crisis of the Indian economy loomed on the faces of the new entrants of the universities and colleges where they had no godfathers.

Most of the OBC castes adhere to the Sudra status in the Varna hierarchy. Sudras are the touchable, yet the lowest rank in the Varna order. The text of Hindu religion has detailed lot of restrictions on the Sudras, including the restriction on job, trade, accumulation of wealth and so on. The sole duty of the Sudras confined to the seva (service) of the other three Varnas. The restrictions on the Sudras is less restraining in compare to the Dalits, outcastes or the ex-untouchables. The internal hierarchy of the caste within sub-castes make it a peculiar institution as it maintains the sense of proud that there are people below to them in the hierarchy. This hierarchy is also a source of optimism, at least in the case of Other Backward Castes who considers themselves ‘in’ the caste system and consoles through their participation in different manufactured myths. Therefore, Mandal commission rightly demarcated the social, economic and educational backwardness, as the constituent criteria of determining the OBC category.

Documentation of pain is an important process in the direction of recognition. However, the most heart wrenching condition is the abstract pain that is neither felt nor available for required remedy. Similar is the condition with the Other Backward Castes (OBC’s) whose attachment with the traditional roots of Hinduism being expressed in the model of Sanskritization. The hope of upward mobility within the caste hierarchy never became a reality. The Sanskritic mobility is the mobility within sub-caste groups, not with in structure of caste system. It means that a Sudra who is hopeful for the change of their caste status, can only be the follower of the available local or regional models of Sanskritization which includes the models of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas.

The OBC movement, up to now, has been the movement for representation, which allures for more and more networks of patronage from the political parties. The political right is the matter of entitlement. It doesn’t need brokers, it demands leadership. Until and unless a community is not competent to understand their exact situation, it can’t mobilise the people on ground. The OBC’s claim for the representation doesn’t reflect effective as they have failed to historicize the pain of different Shramsheel (one who depends on the labour, skilled or unskilled) castes. Education, wealth, and social and cultural capital are the accumulation of generations and most of the backward castes are deprived of it. The decline of North Indian silent revolution has placed an important question of its success in transforming the unconscious ‘class-in-itself’ castes of OBC’s to the conscious ‘class-for-itself’ class, a necessary pre-condition for the success of any movement.

The condition of the OBC’s needs re-consideration from another vantage point. The intoxication of religiosity has worked as an opium in the situation of OBC’s. The religious fanaticism has shifted the urgency for unity to another level. Mere the demand of reservation will only make the community a vote bank and the brokers will remain active to get the patronage. This patronage has a particular character. It reserves its right to choose when to offer the patronage and when to quit. The clients obligation to remain the tutelage of the patron guarantees the continuation of their patronage. Hindutva, the dominant ideology of our time, has the same character of utilizing the sub-caste divisions within the OBC’s and other marginalized caste groups for their own political requirements.

The recent step of increasing the creamy layer income up to Rs. 12, 00,000 and the inclusion of farm income and salary while deciding the creamy-layer are the steps towards making the OBC reservation, dysfunctional. Recently, in most of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission exams, the cut-off of OBC has been higher than the unreserved category. Now, making income as a sole criteria of deciding the beneficiary of the OBC reservation will shackle the very foundation of the reservation. In its original form, the OBC reservation is decided on the basis of social, economic and educational backwardness. The recent step, along with its practical adversaries would dilute it from its original principal.

The formation of a new category, called EWS, has also prepared the ground for making the question of reservation and representation, dysfunctional. The formation of any new category needs a strong base to stand and without having any proper study, its logic remain null and void. The similar documentation of adverse situation and representational backwardness, was mandatory for the EWS, before getting an institutional character. However, government is more concerned to exhaust the strength of economic logic of reservation, essentialised through EWS quota. It is the way to strengthen the logic of income. The over-represented upper castes will ensure their entry from another route.  It will give birth to the new contestation between OBC and EWC. Take an example of recent invitation of application from Delhi University where the EWS category have been attached with SC/ST and they are entitled to pay the ‘entry fees’, equivalent to the SC/STs. However, the marginalised section of OBC is attached with the Unreserved category, where they have to pay equivalent to Unreserved category candidates.

The intended/unintended formation of categories by state has rusticated the logic of equal opportunity and social justice, enshrined in the Indian constitution. There is another examples of underrepresentation and restrictions on the entry of OBC while paving the way for EWS. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (A central university), established under the act of Parliament, to ensure the educational upliftment of SC/STs. The university under a special provision, reserves the 50% seats in all courses for SC/ST’s. The other 50% is available for the Unreserved category. In an unprecedented move, the university has reserved the 10% seats in every course for the EWS category. Now, the remaining 40% seats will available for the open category where marginalized OBC has to compete with forward caste groups. Unfortunately, it is the case of minority institutions as well where apart from OBC, each category enjoys its share. The 10% EWS quota, based on the logic of income, completely overshadows the logic of representation. It is the turf of unparalleled competitors, where the socially and culturally well off, will remain victorious and further advance to another level. It is still beyond comprehension that who actually entitled government to supersede the Supreme Court imposed cap of 50% on the limitation of reservation.

The economic logic of reservation will quit the OBC’s out of game. It is hard to digest the understanding of government that there is no difference between OBC and EWC in terms of their economic capital, socio-cultural capital, and political representation.  The dubious side of this development is whether the OBC be able to advance themselves to tackle with the new emergent situation. Will they be capable to accumulate the economic capital which actually takes generations to build and be present in the competition? However, one must not overlook that the age old traditional restrictions on trade and occupation was stringent for the Sudras, the current OBC community. The different laborious skilled communities of OBC’s capitulated their traditional merit in the wake of rising importance of educational merit.

The recent sanguine entrants of the elite universities are hopeful for the positive results, in spite of not having a single professor belonging to the OBC category in any of the 40 central universities. Therefore, the state has to take the charge of eliminating the structural constraints. Equal opportunity must not remain a constitutional promise alone. Historicity has a major role in defining the present. The constitutional system is duty bound to take away the historical baggage of restriction, imposed on the ‘Sudras’. Only it will facilitate the anticipatory socialization of ‘Sudras’, as per the current requirements. Nevertheless, the economic logic of reservation is determined to overlook the historicity.

Arun Kumar Kushwaha  is working as a doctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Social System, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



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