The deal struck by the Congress with Patidar leader Hardik Patel in the run-up to the high stakes Gujarat assembly election is yet another example of quota politics that has become the country’s bane. First of all, the ‘formula’ of reservation benefits offered by the Congress to the powerful Patel community is incomprehensible in terms of constitutiol acceptability. According to Patidar Amat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, the Congress has accepted its demand for reservations with a formula that provides for “benefits equivalent to OBCs constitutiolly, without disturbing the present 49 percent quota for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs”. How the Congress will bring about this magic is anybody’s guess. The grand old party is playing coy by merely stating that while it is out of power as of now, its formula is “within the constitutiol framework and will be fully in conformity with constitutiol principles”. No wonder senior NDA minister Arun Jaitley has flayed the Congress and PAAS for “deceiving each other”, asking how the constitutiol limit of 50 percent reservation can be breached when the courts are enforcing it in decision after decision. On Hardik Patel’s claim that the proposed reservation law can be put in Ninth Schedule under Article 31 (C) of the Constitution, Jaitley has pointed out that entry into Ninth Schedule too is subject to judicial review if it is challenged as violation of basic structure of the Constitution. So, yet another election promise has been made to reserve government jobs and seats in educatiol institutions for members of a community flexing its muscles — a promise that is unlikely to stand up to court scrutiny. In this context, Jaitley has mentioned Supreme Court’s order last week restraining Rajasthan’s BJP government from crossing the 50 percent cap on quotas until Rajasthan High Court decides upon the matter. This refers to the bill passed by Rajasthan assembly last month, seeking to provide 5 percent quota for the Gujjar community by raising OBC reservation from 21 percent to 26 percent. This ended up raising the total quota in the State to 54 percent. The Gujjars and four other communities had been demanding special backward classes (SBC) quota; the Congress government earlier and the BJP government in Rajasthan presently accepted this demand, but on both occasions Rajasthan High Court struck down the SBC quota to revert the five communities back to OBC list.
The Gujjars have now understood that they have been fooled by successive Rajasthan governments with promises of SBC quota ‘outside’ the 50 percent limit. Since they have failed to get SBC status and are also out of the OBC list, they are in a difficult situation and are now demanding 5 percent quota ‘within’ the 50 percent limit. These are typical complicacies faced by communities demanding various quotas, like the land-owning, politically influential Jats demanding OBC status. Whether UPA or NDA, both political dispensations have promised OBC quota to the Jats, issuing notifications that have failed to stand scrutiny in court. The Supreme Court in March 2015 had to make it clear that ‘caste’ per se cannot be the criteria to qualify for socio-economic backwardness, thereby quashing the UPA notification to include Jats in 9 States in the OBC list. After the Jats hit the streets in violent agitation in February last year, the BJP government set up a committee ‘to look into’ their demand. The BJP having contested on its own and formed a government in Harya for the first time in 2014, was anxious to placate the Jats and kept hinting that their demand will be met, if necessary by creating a new ‘agrarian classes’ category. But when the Harya government ected a law to put the Jat community and three others in a newly curved out Backward Classes category, the Punjab and Harya High Court promptly struck it down in May last year. This merely reinforces the suspicion that some political parties, including tiol parties like Congress and BJP, are taking recourse to quota promises before elections, thereafter drawing up legislations knowing fully well that these will be thrown out by the court. A similar situation keeps cropping up in Assam over the demand of six ethnic communities for scheduled tribe status, and will doubtless be repeated before the 2019 general elections as well. The Congress which ruled the State for 15 years milked the issue, leaving the BJP now in the hot seat making equivocal statements both to the six ethnic communities as well as to the tribal common platform agitating to keep their benefits intact. There has to be a realisation among all stakeholders along with political parties that demands for reservation can be met only according to fixed, clearly laid down and accepted criteria within constitutiol framework.