New Delhi, April 8: Unlike the anti-Mandal agitation, the strongest opposition to an OBC quota in educational institutions could come not from general category candidates but the Dalits.
Like the anti-Mandal agitators, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes fear that the new quota could hit their job prospects.
Dalit activists are campaigning for job reservations in the private sector. They believe that the OBC educational quota, which has drawn severe condemnation from industry captains, will set off a backlash in the corporate world against all forms of reservation, ruining their chances of clinching the job quota.
“We fear this move would hamper our struggle for reservation in the private sector,” said Dalit activist Chandrabhan Prasad. He rued that just when a national consensus was building up on the subject, the “upheaval” against the OBC quota looked likely to “turn everything upside down”.
Given the vehemence of the industry’s opposition to the new quota ' everybody from N.R. Narayana Murthy and Ratan Tata to Rahul Bajaj has made strong statements ' the fears seem well-founded.
“This measure will take the country backwards. Nobody will get jobs if merit is ignored,” the Bajaj group chairman said today. Tata advised the government to create “opportunities” rather than reservations “for the deprived classes”.
To Dabur vice-president Sharad Goel, the government’s move is a “totally retrogressive” step. “When we talk about competing in the global market, how can we undermine merit in all our institutions of higher learning'”
Although Dalit leaders have called for the new quota to be scrapped ' the Centre today clarified it hadn’t taken a final decision to implement it ' Udit Raj of the Justice Party said it could work both ways.
The issue could end up galvanising the Dalits into a more vigorous struggle, or the movement for job reservation in the private sector could fizzle out, Raj said.
Many students already admitted to premier institutes, too, are dismayed by the quota. They fear it might undermine the value of their degrees, harming their job prospects.
National Knowledge Commission member Pratap Bhanu Mehta today kept silent after his correspondence, with clear views against the quota notification, was leaked. Some of his fellow members, such as Kiran Karnik, are known to share his stand.
“Of course we need (to) make access to institutions of higher education equal to everyone. But such policies should be compatible with autonomy of institutions and their vision,” a commission member said. “There is a distinction between SC/ST reservation and OBC quotas.”
Political parties that don’t support the move ' though the bill that paved the way for it was backed by all ' have evaded such direct criticism.
The BJP tried to discredit the notification by saying it was the result of “one-upmanship” between human resource development minister Arjun Singh and the Prime Minister. It said it would reserve a “comprehensive reaction” till it had studied the proposal thoroughly.
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, however, wrote to the Prime Minister condemning the move outright as “appeasement”.