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This is an issue that affects almost every citizen. Perhaps every Indian has had arguments on this which often end in acrimony. This is also an immensely political issue which crops up just before every major election. No doubt then, battles have been fought in courts, legislatures as well as on streets. At one point it took a very ugly and vicious turn and threatened to tear apart entire fabric of society.
Yes, we are talking about issue of reservation in jobs and educational institutions. We will limit our arguments to legal and constitutional angles and some politics (can’t help it) without going into philosophical and practical desirability or otherwise of such provisions.
Before we analyse Parliament and Supreme Court back and forth on the issue of reservation, let’s have a look at relevant constitutional provisions as they existed before amendments.
Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State
(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State
Protection of interests of minorities
(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
Appointment of a Commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes.
Note that I have highlighted the word “only” every time. “Only” here implies that state can not discriminate on religion, race, caste etc only but can discriminate on other grounds.
Now let’s come back to the courts
She challenged madras govt orders of caste quotas in medical colleges-
Predictably parliament passed 1st CAA (Constitutional amendment)
Nothing in this Article or in Clause 2 of Article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Public sort of accepted the reservation but governments can take people for a ride, right! Mysore increased reservation to 68%.
Argument was that extravagant quota was a fraud on constitutional policy of reservation.
Supreme court concurred and balanced the competing interests of rewarding merit and uplifting weaker sections by prescribing 50% limit.
Court also held that whole caste was an important criteria it could not be the only criteria to ascertain backwardness since other religions did not have caste.
Following points are to be noted:
To not breach 50% ceiling it recommended 27% reservation in jobs including govt aided pvt. firms as well as educational institutions.
By the time recommendations came, Janata govt had already fallen. Indira Gandhi consigned it to the same fate as earlier recommendations.
Now some politics
In 1990 when V.P. Singh’s corruption crusade was going nowhere, he played the master card of Mandal. Well if one govt order can get 52% of population voting for you, who would need support of kisan leaders like Charan Singh.
He released 2 office memorandums:
These announcements provoked unprecedented violence, protests and rioting in northern India. Rajiv Gandhi had shown the younger generation the dreams of 21st century but India seemed to be in drift. Corruption scandals had left them disillusioned. Now their whole career was at stake. They boycotted classes, torched vehicles etc. It took an ugly turn when in a tragic incident, Rajiv Goswami, student of Hindu college, DU immolated himself in public in front of live cameras. This sparked off a series of over 100 immolation. Whole nation was horrified. Unsure of whether to support or oppose reservation, Advani started his rath yatra. Shah Bano case had already polarized the communal atmosphere. Rest is a very tragic story which will be told some other day.
Rest continues in the next post of this series. Want to read more?