Addressing claims of backwardness by various politically powerful castes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Social backwardness

Mains level : Paper 2- Claim of backwardness and challenges


Two rulings of the Supreme Court have frayed nerves in Maharashtra on the broader question of “reservation”. The other pertains to OBC reservation in local bodies. Both issues have relevance beyond Maharashtra.

Challenges in addressing the demand for reservation

  • Lack of quantitative data: The issue of actual numbers or population share of OBCs has been talked about for over a decade.
  • Besides, there is a need to understand the socio-economic situation of different backward communities.
  • In the last instance, we have to decide which groups are backward and what needs to be done for them.
  • The political class have consistently avoided the juridical reality.

Consensus between judiciary and political class

  • That consensus after implementation of Mandal commission recommendation had three dimensions:
  • 1) Accepting that caste is the main cause of tradition-born backwardness among a large section of the population.
  • 2) Resorting to “reservation” as the easiest policy response.
  • 3) Recognising and accommodating the political aspirations of the backward sections by expanding the social base of the political elite.
  • But this resulted in the current deadlock on the question of social justice.
  • Today, not only the Marathas, but Jats and Patidars, too, claim that vast numbers among them have been left behind in the contemporary economy.
  • These demands have deflected attention from two matters.
  • 1) That the enabling provision of the Constitution aims at social backwardness (caused by societal location).
  • 2) That the causes of economic distress originating in development policies are distinct from backwardness primarily originating in caste location.
  • Granting reservations on an economic basis seems to have complicated matters.

Five reservation-related issues gaining renewed urgency

  • Intra-OBC differentiations: This issue was already raised by a member of the Mandal Commission itself.
  • Most states have failed to come up with an effective arrangement to addressing the issue.
  • The Centre is currently waiting for a report on this question.
  • Intra-caste stratification: Intra-caste stratification is increasing — something that was rather limited at the time of Mandal.
  • What sociologist D L Sheth called as classification is now becoming the central issue, with many complications.
  • Advantages and logic: The third question is about the specific advantages and logic of reservation in the three different arenas of employment, education and political representation.
  • Limits of reservation: There is need to discuss the limits of reservation and the need to think of additional measures to augment the policy of social justice.
  • Setting boundaries: With such widespread poverty and suffering, how do we distinguish between backwardness primarily caused by a group’s social location in traditional social order and backwardness resulting from distortions of the political economy?
  • Unless we grapple with this question, reservation is bound to remain a contentious issue.

Way forward

  • The above questions are best left ideally to a third backward classes commission whose time has come.
  • Removing the 50 per cent cap legislatively needs to be considered.


We need to devise a mechanism to verify the claims of backwardness to address the increasing demands for reservation from the politically strong section of society.

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