In 2014 when the BJP managed to cross the 272 mark on its own and secure an absolute majority in the parliament, it was not only an indication of the Modi wave which definitely was one of the factors in the party’s landslide victory but also a reflection of the disappointment of the people from coalition governments in the center without much spine to take concrete actions. The country was tired of the blame game which the coalition partners used to play and the inability of the single largest party in the coalition to meet the aspirations of the people citing the compulsions of coalition politics. The atmosphere back then was different and the people of India decided to vote for a stable government in the center and the rest is history.
In the last 4.5 years the people of India have seen both the pros and cons of a stable turned all powerful government at the centre, demonetization was one of the much-debated moves which only a stable government at the center could have taken. It is evidently clear that demonetization and GST have not gone down well with the people of this country and no matter how much the BJP defends the long term benefits of these moves; the short term losses were too big to be neglected and forgiven. The 150 human lives lost and the distress faced by the workers in the informal sector during demonetization will not be forgotten and forgiven for long.
However, finally the Modi government has realized that it was given an absolute majority by the people of India to take pro-poor and pro-development measures minus the crony capitalists and that is what the government has done through the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 that shall award 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category. Never ever before have I seen a bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and getting the Presidential assent in a matter of four days. This is true, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Jan 8th, in the Rajya Sabha on Jan 10th and approved by the President on Jan 12th and this was not the end, it has already been implemented by the state of Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh so far and I so wish that the central, as well as government in the states, start acting like this for their entire tenure of five years instead of waking up during the election season.
While the timing and intentions of the ruling party must be questioned, the purpose of the bill to give 10 % reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category is definitely a step in the right direction and therefore should not be politicized. To set the record straight, it is important for everyone to understand that this reservation is not being awarded to economically backward sections in the upper caste. In fact, there is no upper caste in the society and there is no more a lower caste either, all these categories have been outlawed with the abolition of untouchability by article 17 of the Indian constitution. Yes, there are categories which club different castes together and these categories are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backwards Classes and the General category but being clubbed in one category does not make a caste lower just like being clubbed in any other category does not make a caste upper or privileged. All these connotations of lower and upper caste are historical and not constitutional in nature.
The reservation granted to the people in SC, ST and OBC category so far by the constitution has been on account of both social and economic inequality faced by them in a historical context and aims at fighting that social inequality of the past and developing a more egalitarian society in the future. Reservation in India to any category will always be a positive step until and unless we become a truly egalitarian society and that will not happen any time soon. A report by Oxfam in 2018 found that India’s 1% elite hold 73% of the total wealth of this country leaving only 27 % of wealth for the rest 99 % people. Therefore any reservation on the grounds of economic backwardness is the need of the hour and the only category which was deprived of such benefits were the poor in the general category and with the implementation of the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 they will have their due. For those who argue that the basis of reservation should be social backwardness and not economic backwardness, the reality is that both of these are complicated interrelated concepts and more often than not one ends up having an influence on the other. Also, with the introduction of reservation for poor in the general category, the longtime debate on the issue of the reservation will end as effectively every category will now enjoy the benefits of reservation.
The tricky part I believe will be the righteous implementation of the bill so that the reservation reaches to those who are last in the queue in the general category. The government has for now introduced the Bill in a hasty manner and is unclear on many aspects of the Bill which will evolve with time. For example, the cap of Rs 8 lakh or 5 acres of land is being considered as too high for giving the benefits of reservation but this is not a problem which cannot be solved. A thorough analysis of data on poor in the general category and a bit of honest help from economic and social think tanks will rectify these issues. Eventually, if implemented well, the Bill will ameliorate the lives of poor and the downtrodden in the general category and at the end the aim of any society should be to assimilate and bring to fore those who have been left behind socially, economically or historically because only then the aim of having an egalitarian society will be achieved.