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It is topsy-turvy time when people are no longer people but just votes. The gradual inversion of the principle behind the policy of reservations seems to have reached its logical fulfilment with the state government in Rajasthan, headed by Mr Ashok Gehlot, asking the Centre for reservations for the economically backward among the “forward” castes, Brahmins and Rajputs included. If reservations were originally envisaged as a positive measure to correct age-old injustices towards certain groups of people, that vision has long been forgotten. Fixing quotas is now merely a tool for bagging vote banks, a function of the greed for political power. Since greed cannot give birth to self-respect, the demand for reservations by different groups of people has also increased. The greed from that end is for special privileges, for easy access to lollies that normally would have required merit and honest work. Some good may have been achieved if reservations had been applied strictly to economically backward groups for fixed periods of time, after which quotas would come up for review. Since caste had been the primary means of oppression, reservations were based on caste, although the same castes are not equally disadvantaged in all regions. The “creamy layer” problem exposed immediately that deep contradictions that underlay the principle of caste-based reservations. All that the noble gesture of righting an historical wrong did was to cunningly disguise a lethal device that reintroduced caste division into politics.

It seems there is no turning back now. The Rajasthan chief minister’s proposal is nothing more than a neat hijacking of one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s possible vote-winning tactics. Mr Gehlot would have to fight the anti-incumbency factor in the forthcoming assembly elections and the upper castes of the region have been clamouring for reservations. The Congress chief minister has targeted the vote bank the BJP claims as its own. Perhaps the fact that the BJP seized a number of sure Congress seats last time by offering reservations to the powerful Jat community may have inspired Mr Gehlot to turn the tables. Certainly it puts the BJP in a fix. It cannot easily be seen to disagree with Mr Gehlot, but there is no guarantee that it will not lose a large section of its upper-caste voters even if it agrees. To agree would also mean a constitutional amendment, since Rajasthan already has the permitted maximum of 49 per cent reservations. With politicians busy trying to beat one another with the reservations stick, perhaps the whole country will soon turn into one vast reservation.

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