Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Buying its way out of trouble
Faced with an impasse on the Gujjar reservation issue, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Rajasthan has bought its way out of immediate trouble with a formula that pleases all but defies existing legal norms. The package, which classifies Gujjars as a “separate backward community” and provides them reservation of five per cent (along with other pastoral communities such as Banjaras), meets the Gujjar leadership’s desire of having a special quota for the community. At the same time, it does not upset the Meenas, who fiercely resisted the inclusion of Gujjars as a Scheduled Tribe from fear that such reclassification would eat into their own reservation benefits; two Meena Ministers resigned from Vasundhara Raje’s Cabinet during the Gujjar agitation to pressure her against giving the community the Scheduled Tribe status it was demanding. Finally, the formula seeks to pacify the upper castes, which had also demanded reservation based on economic criteria, by earmarking a 14 per cent quota for poor Brahmins, Rajputs, Vaishyas, and Kayasthas.
One problem with Chief Minister Raje’s proposed quota regime is that reservation will aggregate to 68 per cent in Rajasthan, well above the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the Mandal case. True, Tamil Nadu has a 69 per cent quota enshrined in an Act that was later inserted into the Constitution’s Ninth Schedule to protect it from judicial scrutiny. But the Supreme Court held last year in the I.R. Coelho case that any law incorporated in the Schedule after 1973 could be judicially reviewed on the grounds that it breached fundamental rights or any basic feature of the Constitution. As for the Tamil Nadu Reservation Act, 1993, its validity awaits judicial determination. With the Supreme Court holding that reservation based solely on economic criteria is unconstitutional, Ms Raje’s generous quota handout to the upper castes is also likely to be called into question. Given this, it is a safe bet that her package will be challenged and, if ever done, will take a long time to implement. Of course, it has bailed her government out of a crisis, ending the almost month-long Gujjar agitation that resulted in the loss of 40 lives in police firing and clashes, and caused huge losses of public property. As Abraham Lincoln noted a long time ago, you can please some of the people all the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all the time. In the short-term, Ms Raje’s please-all formula may seem like a clever political move in election season; in addition to the Assembly elections that must be held this year, a 2008 election to the Lok Sabha is strongly indicated. For the long-term, the BJP leader may have only created a new set of political and legal problems that will need to be resolved.