The Supreme Court of India, in its interim order, has stayed the implementation of the reservation of 27% of seats in central government-run educational institutions including the IITs and IIMs. Basically, the SC has agreed to two of the points raised by the petitioners: One, how was the figure of 27% arrived at? In other words, what scientifically-gathered data is there which puts the figure of OBCs at 27% of India's population? Definitely not a 1930 census! Second, why should the 'creamy layer' be given the benefit of reservation? It has also made the caustic observation that the Central Government should not use votebank politics to divide the country. The Government has been given time to come up with supportive documents by August.
This interim order is sure to hog the headlines in the coming days. The HRD minister Arjun Singh, who was the man behind this Act, has expressed 'hope' that the final order will be in government's favour. The 'Mandal' man VP Singh has called for a referendum on reservations.
Now, a lot of questions remain unanswered. As the Left says, how can the SC which upheld reservation of 27% to government jobs now trounce this? Then again, as one student representative said on one of the TV channels, caste in isolation is not a criterion for determining backwardness. There are other barriers also, like the gender divide, the rural-urban gap, the inter- and intra-regional imbalances which all cumulatively determine backwardness. Just the reason that someone is born into a particular caste does not automatically entitle him to work less than others!
A crucial question that everyone conveniently skirts around is this: How effective is reservation / quotas as a tool for the amelioration of the sufferings of millions? Agreed, we need to have an inclusive growth. But, is reservation the only mechanism? No!! Reservation can at best be cosmetic. It does not treat the underlying disease. An analogy comes up in my mind. If two athletes are competing and if one belongs to a backward caste, do we say that he needs to run less distance? No, but we need to give the right kind of nurture and equip him to put up a better performance. One hopes that the SC will give due consideration to all these in its final verdict.
The world around us is marching ahead. Also, there are growing inter-linkages between the global affairs and what happens in India. We're no longer an island that we once were under the likes of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The world does not tolerate mediocrity. It needs fighters. Need proof? Look at India's ignominious exit from the World Cup Cricket. We should not be resting on past laurels, but we need to keep achieving more, small or big.
Finally, why did I say that the 'SC has struck again'? Yes, the first time was when it ruled that all laws put under the 9th schedule of the constitution after the verdict in the Kesavananda Bharathi case (1973) are open to judicial review. The said schedule was being used as a mechanism to dodge uncomfortable questions in the form of judicial review. By asserting that all laws are open to question in the court, the SC only reiterated the 'basic structure doctrine'.