Did Express go overboard with SC verdict on quota story?

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

Many of the front page stories which featured last month in The Indian Express generated a nationwide response. Following the ink attack by Shiv Sena on former AB Vajpayee and LK Advani aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Express published a photograph of Kulkarni on the first page with the headline “Photo courtesy Shiv Sena” (October 13). The paper, edited by IITian Raj Kamal Jha, evoked a lot of buzz on social media owing to the creativeness and brevity which Express exhibited by aptly summarising Sena’s insane ink attack with the help of a subtle headline.

In another lead story, (dated October 16) titled “Muslims can live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef, says Haryana CM”, The Indian Express exposed the conservative mindset of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in an exclusive conversation. The 61-year-old leader’s remarks attracted intense criticism from political and social media circles.But the cover story run by the newspaper on the recent Supreme Court judgment concerning reservation in super specialised medical courses was an unlikely deviation from the high standards of reportage maintained by the publication.

The news report authored by IE‘s Utkarsh Anand was published with the provocative headline: “In national interest, scrap quota in higher education institutions: SC”. The lead paragraph of the report said, “Regretting that some ‘privileges remain unchanged’ even after 68 years of independence, the Supreme Court held Tuesday that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in institutions of higher education and urged the Centre to take effective steps ‘objectively'”.

However, the news report then went on to contextualise the comments made by the Supreme Court, which were obviously in relation to a particular form of reservation vis-a-vis super speciality medical courses. If one peruses through the 58-page Supreme Court judgement delivered by Justices Dipak Mishra and PC Pant, one would find little evidence to claim that the Supreme Court directed the central and state governments to abrogate all forms of existing reservation in the realm of higher education.

On page 57 of the judgement, the Supreme Court referred to the case of one Fazal Ghafoor and quoted a previous judicial ruling which said: “In Dr Pradeep Jain case, this court has observed that in super specialities, there should really be no reservation. This is so in the general interest of the country and for improving the standard of higher education and thereby improving the quality of available medical services to the people of India. We hope and trust that the government of India and the state governments shall seriously consider this aspect of the matter without delay and appropriate guidelines shall be evolved by the Indian Medical Council so as to keep the super specialities in medical education unreserved, open and free.”

In this context, the court went on to add in succeeding point number 38 on pages 57 and 58: “The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope though there has been a progressive change. The said privilege remains unchanged, as if to compete with eternity. Therefore, we echo the same feeling and reiterate the aspirations of others so that the authorities can objectively assess and approach the situation so that the national interest becomes paramount. We do not intend to add anything in this regard.”

Editorially, the Indian Express has a right to have a particular view on the reservation policy in higher education but that view has to be exhibited in the edit and opinion pages, instead of infiltrating into news reports on the front page. Nowhere, did the Supreme Court blatantly call for scrapping of reservations in higher education as theExpress headline claimed. All it disapproved of was reservations in super specialised medical courses and called upon the authorities to “objectively assess and approach the situation”.

The Press Trust of India copy on the Supreme Court judgement titled “SC reinforces no quota in super speciality courses” was far more responsible in its reportage of the ruling. Refraining from attributing any over the top comments to the Supreme Court, PTI’s lead said that “the Supreme Court has reinforced its earlier view that “there should really be no reservation” in super speciality courses in medicine in the general interest of the country.” PTI added, “It (SC) said at a time when the ‘privilege’ of reservation is ‘competing with eternity’ an objective assessment of the situation is required keeping national interest in mind”.

During a lecture held at my university, an editor of a long-form magazine described the Express as “a journalist’s newspaper”, a view echoed by many of my classmates since most of them happen to be its loyal readers. But, as it’s famously said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. Accuracy has to be maintained and a newspaper ought to refrain from reading too much into a judgement which simply talks about reservations in super specialised courses.


(This article was originally published in DailyO.)


Scrap religion-based Scheduled Caste reservations, Mr Modi

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

While addressing an election rally in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dig at the grand alliance of Congress, JD(U) and RJD by raking up the issue of religion-based reservations. Modi said, “The leaders of this ‘Mahaswarth’ alliance are trying to mislead the people on the issue of reservation. It is clear through the discussion of our Constitution makers that reservation cannot be given on the basis of religion.” He added that “these leaders are making a devious plan. They are conspiring to take away 5 per cent reservation of Dalits, Maha Dalits, backwards and extremely backwards and give it to a particular community”.

Though Modi did not particularly name any community, it was apparent that he was referring to Muslims. What Modi was attempting to do was consolidation of Hindu votes by tacitly asking them to rise above caste and vote in unison to outdo “Muslims” who were portrayed as a group which was out to swallow the “Hindu” pie of reservation benefits. Such remarks are a reflection of the BJP’s nervousness in Bihar where they might suffer a setback due to the polarising remarks of their ministers and legislators both at the central and state level following the Dadri lynching episode which occurred last month.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi added, “I come from an extremely backward class and understand the pain of having been born to a poor woman. I will not allow this to happen. I pledge to protect the rights of Dalits, Maha Dalits and backwards.” If Modi truly believes in what he says then he should immediately initiate steps to outlaw religion-based reservations which have been in existence in our country since 1950.

Yes, you heard it right. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 pertaining to Article 341 has been providing religion-based reservations for more than 60 years now. The controversial 1950 order whose legality has been repeatedly questioned states, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”

Initially, the order only recognised Scheduled Castes from the Hindu religion. Thereafter, it was amended twice in 1956 and 1990 to include Sikhs and Buddhists, respectively. The question to be asked is: Can’t a Muslim, Christian, Jain or Parsi be a Scheduled Caste? Do Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have a monopoly over being Scheduled Castes?

The Sachar Committee Report, whose findings suggested that the Muslims of Gujarat are among the most prosperous in the country (and was effectively utilised by BJP spokespersons to build on Mr Modi’s vikaas purush image), had the following to say about Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950: “Dalit (SC) Muslims are not allowed the benefits of Scheduled Caste quota, while their counterparts in Sikh community (Mazhabi Sikhs) and Buddhist community (Neo Buddhist) are allowed the benefits of reservation quota for SC.”

It further added, “It is recommended that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to the Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely delink the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Caste net religiously-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? He won’t because the talk of protecting the rights of Dalits and Mahadalits is hollow rhetoric and electorally motivated. Moreover, Modi’s party is ideologically opposed to granting of SC quota benefits to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

In a speech delivered on August 14, 2004 in Mumbai, BJP patriarch LK Advani said, “For a long time, there have been demands for extending reservations to so-called ‘Dalit’ Christians and ‘Dalit’ Muslims. However, successive governments have not paid heed to these demands. Why? This is because the framers of the Indian Constitution were very clear in their minds that caste is a feature of the Hindu society. If some lower caste Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity in the past, it was because of the claim and the promise of these religions that they were casteless and hence offered an equal station to the converts vis-a-vis original Muslims or Christians.”

There can’t be a more preposterous assertion. Sikhism and Buddhism are also casteless religions in the sense that they do not advocate the division of society on caste lines. Yet Dalit converts to Buddhism and Sikhism are provided with reservation under SC quota. Then why the same privilege can’t be extended to Dalits who converted to other religions including Islam and Christianity? Caste, unfortunately is no longer a problem of the Hindu society as LK Advani opines. It is a problem of the Indian society. Though caste doesn’t exist in Islam or Christianity per se but caste system exists among Muslims and Christians living in India. Therefore, it is wrong to state that Dalits can’t be Muslims or Christians.

The communal Constitution order of 1950 won’t go away anytime soon because no one has the courage to do what justice demands. The Indian National Congress was the party responsible for enacting this provision. It was in power during the last ten years from 2004-2014. Despite repeated pleas from civil society it never bothered to amend the 1950 order. Instead it introduced a minority sub quota of 4.5 per cent in the lead up to the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections. It was touted as “Muslim quota” and floated by the then minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid.

Though it was for all minorities yet the tag “Muslim” became synonymous with it simply because the Congress was desperate to encash on the votes of Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Competitive politics demanded that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party dismissed 4.5 per cent quota for minorities as too less and promised even more. In its blind pursuit of the Muslim vote, the Congress forgot to follow the correct procedure leading the Andhra Pradesh High Court to strike down the 4.5 per cent sub quota for religious minorities in May 2012.

The court said, “No evidence has been shown to us by the learned assistant solicitor general to justify the classification of these religious minorities as a homogenous group or as more backward classes deserving some special treatment.” It went on to state, “We must, therefore, hold that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians do not form a homogenous group but a heterogeneous group.”

Have you ever wondered why do politicians reignite the debate on reservations only before elections? Congress and SP remembered Muslims before Uttar Pradesh elections, Modi remembered Dalits before Bihar elections and the inimitable Lalu Prasad recently described the upcoming elections as a “fight between backward and forward castes”.

Reservations have become a political tool in the hands of our corrupt leaders. In the midst of political mudslinging, the core issue concerning an objective analysis of the prevailing reservation policy is being overlooked. Should 21st century India adopt a reservation policy? If yes, then what should be the criteria for granting reservation in educational institutes and jobs? How should it be implemented? These are the questions which our leaders should have addressed clearly but they never did so.

Millions of Indians still find themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. Several others are educationally backward and belong to communities that are actively discriminated against and grossly under-represented in government sector jobs. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the State to help such individuals by means of affirmative action. One cannot shrug off the need for reservation by citing simplistic arguments of merit. The bigger picture needs to be taken into consideration. Hence, it is essential to have reservations in place for disadvantaged sections of society.

The second point is in relation to the basis on which reservation is to be granted. This is a subject on which the Central and state governments must necessarily revisit their policies. BJP’s Subramanian Swamy maintains that reservations should apply to those who have historically been discriminated against (Dalits, Mahadalits and the likes) and not the erstwhile ruling class like Brahmins, Muslims and Christians. This is a flawed proposition.

I’ve studied along with reserved category students who belonged to a historically disadvantaged group but made use of Apple iPhones. Such individuals are not disadvantaged and shouldn’t be reaping the benefits of reservation. We have a lot of people from the so-called forward castes who are struggling financially and need state support.

The only way out is to make the economic status of an individual the foremost criterion while granting reservation. Secondly, a sub quota needs to be drawn out of the entire reservation pool to exclusively cater to those people who are economically backward and also belong to communities that are educationally backward, under-represented in government jobs and services and victims of social discrimination. We need to adopt an evidence-based approach instead of an electoral or agitation-based approach while identifying such communities.

Backwardness would have to be proven on the basis of data and not perception. No community should be declared as being backward by the government because the party in power intends to reap their votes in the coming elections. Neither should governments give in to pressure from groups who organise bandhs and paralyse state machinery including railways to acquire reservation status. This sounds good on paper but the governments are obviously incapable of doing so because of their overt political agenda. We can only hope that good sense prevails and political parties start thinking along these lines else law courts might have to step in.

Lastly, we need to be absolutely mindful of certain rules while implementing the reservation policy. Reservations have to be time bound. They need to be reviewed and reformed from time and time. As per Supreme Court, reservation cannot extend to more than 50 per cent of the total seats. All institutions should abide by the said rules. While implementing reservation policy, additional seats or vacancies need to be created. For instance, if there are 20 seats in an educational institution for a particular course or 20 vacancies in a government office, reservation of  50 per cent should mean 20 general seats + 50 per cent reserved seats, instead of 20 – 50 per cent reserved seats.

Most importantly, it has to be ensured that reservations don’t compromise on quality and are provided only to those who truly deserve it. The maximum relaxation lent to applicants from reserved category shouldn’t go below 10 per cent of the general category cut-off in any case. If it happens then even people from the unreserved category will learn to appreciate the utility of reservations. This is because they will be sharing their classrooms and offices with people from the reserved category who are deserving and have achieved a certain level in the merit list despite the economic and social handicap that they have suffered from. This will eventually lead to the fading away of resentment regarding reservation among the unreserved people which currently exists in gigantic proportions.


(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

Political Polarization vs Political Persuasion

There is a vast difference between political polarization and political persuasion. Polarization is when people cast their vote for the Congress or the BJP not because they are convinced of the Congress Party’s secular credentials or the BJP’s rightist objectives but because they are either afraid of the communal outlook of the BJP or Congress’s pseudo secularism. If the Congress attracts voters because of its condemnation of BJP’s communal politics or if the BJP manages to get votes by ridiculing Congress’s appeasement politics then both the parties successfully polarize votes.

Political persuasion takes place when a party is able to effectively convince a community of its agenda for that community’s or caste’s welfare. What needs to be realized over here is that the persuasion agenda should be bonafide andd not malafide. It should not be a populist measure launched with the intention of drumming up political support and it shouldn’t even be outright appeasement of an entire community or caste at the expense of others. It must not be done with the intent of wooing the electorate but with the intent of working for them honestly. It should be well planned and must not crop up instantly at the time of the elections. In the election season we can’t stop excessive pious posturing but the posture in itself should not be a new thing. It should be a thing of the past and a relatively old ambition, they can obviously add more into that. We can provide leaders with that much leverage. Persuasion agenda can be legitimate only if it does not violate the model code of conduct, happens to be constitutionally compatible and permissible (if not, the party concerned should clearly specify its intention of amending the constitution), is legally possible and most importantly if it is pragmatically feasible or bonafide as mentioned earlier. For example if the SP manages to tap in the votes of all the Muslims by promising quotas to all of them then it is polarization and not persuasion because all Muslims are not in need of attaining quotas although some are. The very essence of this agenda is malafide and so it’s an attempt to polarize and not persuade. Sometimes such atrocious acts or out of the way remarks lead to an attempt by a competitor party to counter polarize things. For example the BJP in UP tried to portray itself as the saviour of OBC’s by saying that it will revoke the Congress’s minority quota which tends to eat up the pie of OBC reservations. The BJP’s rheoric sounded more anti-minority and less pro-obc. They were trying to collect the OBC votes solely on the basis of this issue and did not talk about other ways of empowering them or uplifting them from social and economic backwardness, hence it was termed as a polarization ploy.

Many times parties try to plan the progress of a community by plotting the downfall or decline of others. This is not the ideal way to go. If votes come for or against them then it is all because of polarization and counter polarization, respectively. Some parties woo communities by telling them that if they are voted to power then status quo shall maintain and the other party’s attempts of victimizing them won’t take place. This is again a polarization tactic. If a community casts its vote in favour of the Congress or the BJP because they are either supportive of the Congress’s inclusive politics &and minority upliftment schemes or of the BJP’s exclusive politics of development for all and appeasement for none, then it happens to be an example of effective political persuasion. Another sort of polarization apart from the traditional caste and community polarization is issue-based polarization like corruption. Issue-based polarization is still acceptable unlike caste or community polarization based on pre-conceived perceptions of parties. Political polarization is far more a realistic thing than political persuasion. The important thing is to realize that polarization is negative whereas persuasion is positive. During polarization parties tend to talk more of other parties backdrops and less of their own strengths whereas when they tend to indulge in persuasion, they act in the opposite way.  

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action, often dubbed as positive discrimination and referred to as reservations in India are necessary initiatives worthy enough of being lauded if they are not assessed through the prism of political philosophy. In order to understand affirmative action policies we need to trace its origins.

The term ‘affirmative action’ was used for the very first time by late American President John F Kennedy in an executive order. The order was issued to all employers and urged them to undertake affirmative action in order to ensure that no person is discriminated against on the basis of his colour, caste, creed or sex during the appointment process. What began as an attempt to ensure non-discrimination soon began to be construed as a policy with wider implications. I have vocally opposed all such affirmative action policies in the past but yesterday my opinion changed after a comprehensive brainstorming session which forced me to rethink.

Reservations, as we call it in India lead to a mismatch. A person who gets lesser marks or is of slightly low calibre gets a college or a job which doesn’t suit him. His peers are far more efficient than him and over time this person is overshadowed and starts suffering from an inferiority complex. People belonging to reserved categories get such preferential treatment because of their pitiable status or because of past discrimination or historical oppression but the way in which they acquire benefits sponsored by the Government, leads to reverse discrimination and repetition of unfortunate history but this time it’s the other way round because the reserved category people are now in the driving seat and are depriving genuine people of an opportunity which they surely deserve. People who lose out on jobs and seats because of affirmative action policies start hating people belonging to the reserved groups and it leads to their radicalization. Moreover, it also leads to serious undervaluing of the achievements of the people of the reserved group as all their accolades and achievements are brushed aside and assumed to have happened solely because of preferential treatment.

People have alleged that affirmative action policies are enacted to drum up electoral support and they clearly ignore meritocracy. But the bigger side of the story is that how else do you bring out a group from the vicious circle of social and economic backwardness and also give an underrepresented faction its due representation? It can only happen when you educate them and give them job opportunities. Ensure that they are not victimized or discriminated against because of their origin. People say that this can be done by giving them scholarships and fee concessions, the Government does do that but the bottom line is that we can give them these benefits only when they get a chance to study or work and for this the Government is bound to take certain protectionist measures.

Such reserved category people are certainly not in the position to compete with the other established sections of the society and so you create favourable conditions and lesser eligibility criteria’s for them but what needs to be ensured is that a certain benchmark has to be maintained and seats along with jobs should be given only to those who actually deserve it. Affirmative action doesn’t mean that you throwaway educational seats and jobs to people belonging to the reserved category, it means that you give a chance to talented people belonging to the reserved groups and not facilitate the entry of rowdy elements in educational institutes and PSUs.

However, if the Government wants to give reservations to a certain community then it needs to create additional seats and jobs for them instead of reserving a certain percentage of seats for them out of the available ones. For example if the number of seats in a college are 70 and the Government intends to reserve 10% seats for some backward groups then it shouldn’t take away 7 seats out of the available 70, instead it should create 7 additional seats for them and let the existing number of seats (ie 70) be filled via open competition. Similar actions need to be taken while giving such people jobs. What it’ll do is that it’ll ensure that deserving individuals do not suffer because of affirmative action and if they’ll not lose out on seats then the question of open category people beginning to hate reserved category people won’t arise. Affirmative action policies need to be time bound. The Government should enact it for a fixed period of time and it should be re-looked at after the expiry of the given period. Its past performance should then be taken into account to determine its fate. If the policy has made no difference to the group for which it was framed then it should be abolished, if it has worked wonders for them then too it should be scrapped because now this community is capable of competing. The policy should be continued only if it manages to improve the plight of the concerned group marginally and if it is felt that the continuation of this policy would help in improving their situation even more but no affirmative action policy should be enacted without time-bound restrictions.

The Government does need to walk the extra mile to bail out these disadvantaged groups. We must remember that terrorism began because of a dangerous but true feeling which began to arouse among underrepresented and backward groups and that feeling was of getting marginalized. However, affirmative action policies cannot be seen as legitimate if they are enacted during elections to woo a particular section of society. Such policies shouldn’t be used for the purpose of populism but unfortunately they are. I would like to sign off by saying that India isn’t an exception, all countries in the world undertake affirmative action or positive discrimination policies.