Maratha march should lead to a national debate on quota policy itself
A major issue that has bedeviled the nation for almost two-and-a-half decades has been the demand for reservations from dominant castes across the country. That reservations exist is not a problem: The original idea was to end unequality, something which has been extremely deep-rooted since long. It is also a fact that caste-based discrimination still exists. The deepest inequality in India is economic. Problem arises when some dominant groups like that of the Marathas in Maharashtra or the Jats in Haryana or even the Patidars of Gujarat, which are landowning and regionally-dominant castes, demand extension of the privileges that are meant for the socially and economically backward classes. The worst outcome of such agitations is the damage done to the social fabric of the country and the immense inconvenience caused to the people in general. And all this while holding the political leadership of the State to ransom. The latest to join the bandwagon are the Marathas, who took out a silent protest, but virtually brought the nation’s financial capital to a standstill for a few hours as lakhs of protesters wearing saffron turbans and caps thronged the streets with one message ‘Ek Maratha, lak Maratha’. Legitimate or otherwise, their demand is certainly uncalled for due to varied reasons. First, they have been socially and politically dominant in the State. Around 13 out of the 18 Chief Ministers in the State have been Marathas and many have held Cabinet positions too. Second, the community, which accounts for 32 per cent of the State’s populace, has several land holdings and has been a dominating force in rural areas. Third, and the most crucial one is that the Supreme Court had struck down their demand for quota in absence of compelling evidence of their social and educational marginalisation. Moreover, there are other legal constraints too as the apex court mandates the State Governments to maintain a ceiling of 50 per cent for reservations.
With demands approaching dangerous levels, politicians too do not lag behind in offering sops that often come at a cost which several political parties are unwilling to pay. But there are also those who themselves have been beneficiaries of reservations and would do anything to remain in power. Nevertheless, the Maratha movement is a telling example of the looming job crisis in the country. To this end, the Devendra Fadnavis Government has done well to announce educational benefits to skill the youths and to provide them with financial assistance for higher studies. However, these are temporary solutions as they are unlikely to assuage perceptions. Such sops will, in-turn, foment other groups with similar demands. The need of the hour, therefore, is a permanent solution to the problem. It’s high time that the Union Government re-examines the quota policy and eliminates those who have already benefited from them. Arguably, it is very difficult for political parties to publicly call for a review of the reservation policy. Therefore, to begin with, a national debate is the need of the hour.
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