The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Digvijay Singh, seems broadly to be in tune with his party. Reservations is to be a major topic of debate in the Congress’s brainstorming session beginning July 7. But the focus of this debate would be the issue of job reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in the private sector. Although Mr Singh has already suggested the enactment of a diversity law to encourage private sector job reservations, his immediate concern is regional and somewhat more specific. Mr Singh, himself from the upper castes, is facing sharp rivalry from Ms Uma Bharti of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who is energetically courting the OBC vote with the conviction and appeal that come from being an OBC herself. As the November assembly elections loom closer, Mr Singh is looking for ways to retain his chief ministership for a third time. Hence he has decided to increase OBC reservations to 27 per cent from the existing 14. His inspiration is the report of the state Mahajan commission set up in the Eighties to recommend reservations for OBCs.
Perhaps Mr Singh thinks that the gesture is important in itself, because he cannot be ignorant of the fact that in a state that already has 36 per cent quotas for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, raising the 14 per cent quota for OBCs would breach the 50 per cent limit for total reservations laid down by the Supreme Court. Bleeding heart on display to draw in the votes, he can always claim that he tried his best. The whole exercise is an exhibition of the shameless politicking that has totally banished any idea of development from positive discrimination. Mr Singh’s compatriot in Rajasthan, Mr Ashok Gehlot, is proposing reservations for the economically backward among the upper castes. Anything goes. Reservations, to mean anything at all, must have a time-frame, be strictly monitored, be need-based and therefore region-specific. The Constitution has not provided reservations as a weapon in the hands of politicians. Mr Singh’s use of reservations is symptomatic of the way the constitutional ideal has been completely distorted. He has been known for his efforts in development work among the backward classes in his state. It is a sign of the times that he too should be resorting to unnecessary quota tricks just as the elections appear on the horizon.