The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Politicians never run out of ways to cling on to power. Two decades ago, the Congress had coined its slogan, “garibi hatao” (banish poverty) to win elections. But the poor were soon forgotten and the slogan discarded. As the general elections draw closer, we have a similar political stunt from the Bharatiya Janata Party whose formula is “reservation of jobs for the poor in the upper castes”. The earlier winning formula, Hindutva, seems to have become effete now. Since it is mainly a party of upper caste Hindus, it needs to keep its vote-bank intact. Hence the push for a constitutional amendment.

The move is bound to succeed as Congress support to it is assured. For it was the Congress’s Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan who set the ball rolling by bestowing 14 per cent reservation in jobs for the upper caste poor, mostly Rajputs and Brahmins.

In itself, reservation of jobs is not an evil. The founding fathers of the Constitution reserved jobs for the lower castes in the public sector to give them a headstart after centuries of discrimination and oppression by the upper castes. Thus 13 per cent jobs in the public sector were reserved for the scheduled castes and nine per cent for scheduled tribes. The Mandal commission reserved almost 25 per cent of such jobs for the backward classes. Additionally, each state government set aside government jobs for the handicapped, former servicemen and the like. Almost 50 per cent of government jobs are thus reserved.

Counter point

It is in this scenario that the bid to set aside 10 per cent jobs for the upper caste poor has been made. But the big question is why has the BJP made the proposal 10 months before the general elections' Why did it suddenly wake up to the needs of poor upper castes only after Gehlot had announced his decision' The picture is clear. The BJP was merely trying to counter a Congress move. If Gehlot had his sights trained on the assembly elections, the BJP had it on the general elections.

The new policy will thus be another political trick played on the people of this country and it needs to be vehemently opposed for various reasons. First, where are the promised jobs the poor upper caste are supposed to get' Almost all state governments and the Centre are drastically cutting down on expenditure. New recruitments are hardly being made and the few posts that remain will be out of the reach of the poor because of the lack of requisite qualifications. Illiteracy and poverty go hand in hand.

Moreover, how will one prove himself to be poor' The government will need to appoint special officers to attest to the poverty of the applicants. This will undoubtedly pave the way for unsavoury practices — bribes to obtain poverty certificates in genuine cases, as also in cases which are not so genuine. Cases of people procuring false scheduled caste or tribe certificates are not new.

Alternative way

Again, the fixing of the 10 per cent quota will further divide society and create another class of people. A democracy should strive towards social integration, not more divisions. Every government must take positive action to bring equality and justice to every section of society. But fixing a job share for the upper caste poor will only treat the symptom of an economic malaise, not the disease itself. The quota may held a few hundred educated poor from getting jobs within a decade, but what about the millions who will remain poor'

What these people need is not a quota in an ever-shrinking job market, but opportunities for education and self-employment. All children, and not merely the upper caste poor, should have free and compulsory access to quality education till the ten plus two level. Those who are bright should be allowed to study further through easily available loans from the government. However, providing education facilities to the upper caste poor would not bring immediate returns to politicians in the form of votes. So they would invariably go for the better alternative, that is fooling the people of this country.

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