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Way to an Inclusive Society

In his New Year eve message to the tion, President Prab Mukherjee urged the people to dedicate the year 2015 to the creation of an inclusive society and towards maintaining “maximum” vigilance against efforts to disturb peace and security in the country. This is in tune with Prime Minister rendra Modi’s reiterated dream of an inclusive society. In fact, in a tacit appreciation of the Modi government, the President praised a number of “new beginnings” and important initiatives launched in 2014. “Let us celebrate pluralism and promote tolerance and understanding amongst all communities,” he said. “We must take these initiatives to fruition,” he said, adding that development must reach the poor and the underprivileged across the country.

There is no gainsaying that these are laudable objectives in our quest for an inclusive society. However, there is no denying that our politicians have been the most active elements of our society in frustrating these aspirations. Even 67 years after Independence they have not been able to get out of the rut of commul politics. There is hardly any political party that does not think of nomiting someone from the domint caste or community of a constituency to contest general elections. There is also a strong tendency to exploit and deprive the tribal groups of our society. This tendency is at the root of much of the class war and the Maoist conflicts that we have witnessed in recent years. What is conveniently overlooked is that this is the most convenient way of ensuring that our tion will remain a conglomerate of exclusive caste– and community–based societies that will go on defying the principles of pluralism, tolerance and understanding for the sake of electoral equations. There can be very little inclusiveness in such a socio–political climate. Those who live in a democratic dispensation must acquire the mindset to agree to disagree in peace whenever our diversity leads to such inevitable disagreements. But what we often see is the most disagreeable manifestation of such disagreements.

Whether our development reaches the poor and the undeveloped in the country or not, we have another political decision that has stymied development itself. This is the decision to exclude competition from as large a section of the population as is possible. The reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that the framers of our Constitution provided for a period of just ten years as a means of bringing the disadvantaged sections of our society as close as possible to the more fortute sections of our society has been used as a political tool to win votes. Our lawmakers have not only amended the Constitution to undo the ten–year limit but have also added categories to the reserved list like “Other Backward Classes” and “More Other Backward Classes”. This has resulted in highly increased reservation of seats in medical and engineering colleges as well as other advanced institutions of higher learning by most of the State governments. At present we have a sort of competition among them on the extent of seats that they are willing to reserve for the so–called disadvantaged sections of society. The expression so–called becomes operative because after decades of enjoying the benefits of backwardness, they are no longer backward. They have moved forward and have the additiol benefit of being able to access all the benefits that the government has to offer to its citizens without competition. We have thus created a ‘creamy layer’ when our society had no need for such a group of privileged parasites. Actually, what the government has really achieved is the promotion of backwardness as a virtue of sorts, rejection of the principle of competition being the best catalyst of development and the creation of new groups of disadvantaged citizens from among those who had advantages earlier, but have become disadvantaged now because every door of getting ahead in life is now closed to them. Quite an extensive exclusion has thus been created in our society. As such, there are legitimate fears as to whether we can create an inclusive society with some of these roadblocks that we have set up. Today we have a larger section of society that has all the benefits of so–called backwardness without any competition while the rest must compete very hard for the general category spaces. Therefore, inclusive development is likely to remain a distant dream until we are able to abolish reservations at least 65 years after the adoption of our Constitution even though we were not able to do so after the stipulated 10 years. Much will depend on how soon we can do this and reintroduce healthy competition.

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Ankur Kalita

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