“An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society, there should be many interests channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society, there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words, there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards one's fellow men.”
– Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, P. 30
During the debate on the 124th Amendment to the Constitution of Bharat, proposing reservations for the weaker sections of the people from the General Category, there was an interesting positioning. The conventional proponents of the caste-based reservations were arguing for ensuring the reservations for ‘poor’ from the conventionally termed as the ‘upper-caste’. This was unprecedented on the generally vitiating discussion on reservation policy. Though there was an obvious political mud-slinging during the discussion, in many ways, this bill has opened up new possibilities in realising the actual objectives of the Reservation Policy, as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly.
Is it a political decision? Of course, it is. And that is how it is supposed to be in a democracy. Similar decisions have been taken by previous governments in the last leg of their tenure, so no party should complain. Contrary to the projection by electronic media, the ‘upper-caste’ or ‘Savarn’ is not the right term to express the spirit and provisions of the amendment, as it includes all other sections of society, that are not covered under either of the present reserved categories, namely Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
As the bill also does not limit it to the ‘family income’ and other criteria but allows the Governments to notify ‘economically weaker sections’ from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage’, this is a dynamic provision which can unfold possibilities at the time of implementation. So, on the both social and economic fronts, it has opened up new opportunities to the unaddressed section of the society.
Till now, the reservation policy has invoked sharp and inimical responses. This ten per cent quota will reduce that divisive perception about the caste-based reservations. The question that is raised about the dilution of the Caste-based reservations is baseless and with malafide intention. The purpose of the original reservation was never for creating economic opportunities for the SCs and STs but mainly for ensuring representation in the system and therefore, it should not be and cannot be diluted. The representation for the poor is the right perspective to see this new amendment, rather than reservations for the ‘upper caste’. Yes, this has opened up the possibility of debate on taking the policy of reservation to the needy and deserving sections within SCs, STs and OBCs who are still deprived of this opportunity. The way Bihar had carved out the separate lists for Maha-Dalits (Most Backward SCs) and Ati-Pichhada (Most Backward Classes) can be one option which can be explored to realise the objectives of the reservation policy.
Ultimately, ensuring equality with the fraternity so that everyone can enjoy the liberty is the essence of democracy. That is what Babasaheb Ambedkar had called as the ‘social democracy’. What we should debate and deliberate is the genuine and effective implementation of the reservations, whether caste-based or the newly proposed economy-based. Showing sincerity towards implementation of Reservations on Caste basis and simultaneously providing opportunities to the economically weaker sections, we can ensure equality of opportunities and at the same time, further the cause of fraternity.