General Category Quota and the Cause of Social Justice

I am generally of the opinion that caste and religion based reservation is a bad idea in a country that claims to be secular.  To state that all citizens are equal before the State irrespective of their caste, religion or gender, and then give preferential treatment to some based on the same parameters is hypocrisy. In line with this view, I am against the newly introduced law that grants quota for economically backward among those from the general category (which is again on the basis of caste). However, there is one way in which I think this general category quota can serve the cause of social justice in the long run.

To understand this, we need to look at the current situation in India where we have been having caste-based reservations for decades now. This has enabled many to use their caste to make their way to powerful positions and pass on the benefits of both their caste and their position to subsequent generations. This has led to the denial of opportunity to the deserving. But even more seriously, it has installed many undeserving and incapable persons in high positions to which they are unable to do justice.

This Caste based reservation system in India, which affects almost all stages of life such as education, job qualification, and even promotion in the public sector, is a poison. But this poison is very dear to all political parties that have been enchanted by its color and flavor which translate to vote banks. There are also many people in this country who have received its benefits and, or otherwise want this system to continue. So it is not easy for anyone to throw away this poison without inviting the ire of a large section of the population and thereby undermining their electoral prospects.

So, in the current scenario, no political party will have to courage to take this drastic step. A way out is to first make the poison unpalatable so that even those who are attracted to it now will spit it out or throw it away. One way to do this is to dilute it by expanding its coverage to more and more castes, religions,  and communities (Jats, Patels, Marathas,..) so that it loses its flavor and appeal to specific sections of people (and thereby to politicians who depend on these vote banks). When others castes are also included, it will become unpalatable to the ones who were originally in it and thus were privileged. This has already started working, judging by how many supporters of caste-based reservation are vehemently opposing this move.

To give an analogy, let’s say a kid likes pizza but hates vegetables. It is hard to persuade her to put away the pizza; snatching it from her will also likely be troublesome. So just keep adding more and more vegetables to it until at some point she loses interest and decides to put it away.

This, in my opinion, is the only benefit of the newly proposed quota for economically backward among those not covered by any caste-based reservation. In the long run, I hope that this quota for those in the general category will make the reservation system weaker and at some point unwieldy and untenable.

In a democracy, unpopular decisions are not afforded even when they are needed (such as scrapping the reservation system that we have now). So you have to repackage them in a way that is more appealing to the masses. I think this is one of the deeper objectives of the new quota law. Hopefully, these steps will gradually lead to a situation where nobody really benefits from reservations anymore and we have a level and fair playing field.

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