The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- There are no longer any reservations about reservations

This was unavoidable. Once the campaign for reservations was extended to its illogical extreme, the Brahmins could not be left behind. If the supposedly reasonable assumption that the state should be compassionate to all is taken for granted, everything else falls into place. There are, after all, backward species within the Brahmin community — some who have fallen on unhappy days or have been deprived, for whatever reason, of the opportunity of a comfortable living. Is not ours a democratic state with every person having a vote' That apart, ours is a socialist republic, too.

Both democracy and socialism imply the equalization of opportunities for each and all. This noble objective of equalization cannot leave out of its ambit the Brahmins; that would be betraying the trust of the Constitution. In the great carnival of reservations now on, politicians, of mostly all categories, are therefore having a lovely time: my claim for reservation of a job or a legislator’s seat is ipso facto superior to your claim. And there the reasoning ends.

Or not exactly. Some further effervescent logic follows. Once upon a time the Brahmins monopolized the ownership of knowledge in society. To allow them to wither away will be to kill this heritage of wisdom, which will make us a lesser nation. The texture of this far-out syllogism can be spun to infinite length in infinite manner in infinite directions. Since the “reservation within reservation” lobby is gaining strength with every day, much debate is likely to follow over fine-tuning reservations, such as between the Iyers and the Iyengars, or, in a different locale, between Vaishnavites and Saivaites, or between adherents of smriti and those of sruti; and, further, among their different sub-sects. Hypothetical examples can be multiplied, and we will never really reach the home-stretch.

Perhaps this is existential philosophy running riot. Only the self at this particular moment of time matters, nothing else does. Certainly, history does not matter. The scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities, along with some of the other backward sections, have reached their present plight because of a ruthless historical process. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas were the traditional social oppressors within the contours of the Hindu universe, and other sections and classes were the victims. From times immemorial those at the top of the social hierarchy had denied the opportunities of life and living to the oppressed communities. With Bhalerao Ambedkar and the Gandhi-Irwin pact showing the way, the historical wrong was intended to be reversed through the constitutional procedure of job and legislative seat reservations.

Here came the crunch. The Indian mind is extraordinarily imaginative. Before long, reserved quotas began to be demanded for all and sundry. If all such claims were to be conceded at the same point of time, the parts, when added up, would easily exceed the whole. The pie would be more than exhausted.

All the demands cannot be granted; only some can be. At this juncture though, competitive democracy takes over. Multiple characters are in search of a vote. Even a single vote is worth its weight in gold. We have the precedent set in Kerala, were an entire district — Pathanamthitta — was carved out to ensure the loyalty of just one member of the legislative assembly on the eve of a crucial debate in the state assembly.

What is sown has to be reaped. No question India will increasingly become a ferocious battleground where the savagery of warfare and the laws of the market will coalesce. Lobbyists will discover, or purchase, politicians to propagate their cause. It could be otherwise too: politicians will, for their own survival and prosperity, discover lobbyists, or subsidize quota-mongers. The disputes will not be merely verbal. Firearms and explosives will be deployed with abandon. AK-47 rifles are reasonably cheap these days; so too are the RDX composts. There is also gossip that the adage, “small is beautiful”, will be proved to the hilt through the rapid decentralization of the nuclear weapons industry. That too will come handy.

Few politicians either perceive, or have the courage to admit, that much of this is a manifestation of retarded economic development, including retarded development of economic equality. Those who control the levers of power inherit the earth. Politicians accordingly create lobbies which they think will help them inherit the earth. Since the sum of the parts cannot exceed the whole and none is willing to surrender an inch of ground, war between communities becomes inevitable, often embellished by insensate violence.

No wonder the Brahmins, or their patrons, have put in the claim to be a part of this concourse. They belong to the most privileged community; history books are replete with innumerable annals of the economic and social exploitation of the crudest kind they have been perpetrators of. That does not bother them. They can always argue that as much as others, they too are the worst victims of the ills of history; the erosion of their former privileges is a scandal.

They can venture to take a leaf out of the book of Andrew Mellon, the American tycoon who went on to become the secretary of the treasury in the American administration. Mellon was the celebrity who pioneered the discovery of the tax loophole arts purchases paved the way for. Once named the treasury secretary, he unabashedly wanted the tax laws to be tilted in favour of the rich. He ordered income taxes to be cut across the board and similar reductions in levies on wealth and property. The rich, Mellon argued with passion, were an integral part of society, and their grievances deserved to be looked into with the same sympathy as is brought to bear to examine the plight of the poor. Those who sought “to perpetuate prejudice and class hatred” by arraying one class of tax-payers against another were, he thundered, traitors to the principle of equity on which the United States of America was established.

What a tantalizing structure of reasoning. With it as weaponry, one could well argue, as Mellon did, for just the same proportion of tax rates for the filthy rich and the miserable poor. Old ideas do not ever die; they are reborn in new settings. An officially sponsored task force has recently suggested such a Mellon-esque tax regime for India. We are living in a democracy whose Constitution solemnly swears equality of treatment between citizen and citizen. Should it not then follow that, where taxation is concerned, the same treatment be accorded to the rich as is accorded to the poor, otherwise the integrity of the Constitution will be besmirched'

Some years ago, in one of those post-dinner parties in a five-star Mumbai hotel that go on forever, an earnest society lady was heard putting across a point to a distraught professor of social sciences. A story was afloat that the political party she belonged to had asked her to exercise her charm to organize the underworld dons. Yes, the story was true, the hoodlums were also a part of society; it was therefore her patriotic duty to organize them.

Is it not also our patriotic duty to organize reservations for the noble Brahmins, the original and indisputable authors of the chaturvarnashram' At this rate, the absurd will, at each step, be surpassed by even greater absurdity. For instance, with the prospects at Nalanda looking somewhat wobbly, the venerable George Fernandes might claim a special parliamentary quota exclusively for himself since he is the only defence minister of the country to don an anti-gravity suit for flying in a state-of-the art Sukhoi-30 fighter jet, a feat deserving of recognition.

This same defence minister has however been chary to don a humdrum airforce pilot’s apparel to fly in one of those MiG fighter planes that go down regularly all over the country. A gulf exists between discretion and preference. The wise Brahmins knew it; our defence minister too does. There should be, it follows, no reservations about reservations.

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