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Home > India > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Social scientist P Radhakrishnan

'In the case of reservations, there is no exit'

May 30, 2008


Dr P Radhakrishnan
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Dr P Radhakrishnan, the well-known social scientist and professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, is a specialist on issues concerning backward classes and reservations, backward class politics, caste system, untouchability, etc.

In this interview with Contributing Editor Shobha Warrier, he talks about the need to remove the "creamy layer" as the Supreme Court said in its recent judgment. According to him, a social churning and uprising would take place in the days to come, like the ongoing uprising by Gujjars in Rajasthan, when some groups continue taking all the benefits of reservation.

In 2006 when I interviewed you, you said the issue of reservation was in the safe hands as the Supreme Court had intervened. Do you call the Supreme Court verdict removing the creamy layer from reservation, a landmark one?

No, I don't call this a landmark judgment. I would say they have come half way in the case of OBC reservation in education. The government also has come half way in response to that.

Why do you say so?

We have not yet properly identified the OBCs. That is where the dilemma is. Even the judiciary has not identified them. After the Mandal Commission judgment, the first step taken by the Government of India was to list all the castes and communities common to the states and central list. The Centre already had a list which the Mandal Commission had prepared which was in dispute for several years.

But more than 80 pc of the population in Tamil Nadu comes under the OBC list. Do they come in the central list also?

Eighty-six pc (in Tamil Nadu). But not all these communities are under the central list.

Reservation for central services started only in 1993 after the Mandal Commission report. Each state was supposed to appoint a permanent commission to look at the inclusion and exclusion of communities. But most states are interested in placating the population.

At that time, (former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister) Jayalalitha managed to have 69 pc reservation for 86 pc of the population without excluding the creamy layer either in education or employment through an Act passed in 1994. (Former Prime Minister) P V Narasimha Rao managed to get the Tamil Nadu Act in the 9th schedule. Once something goes into the 9th schedule, the judiciary's role is very restricted.

Two days after this, when the Karnataka government wanted to have 70-80 pc reservation, the same judiciary asked them to stall it as the judiciary had already laid down the criteria and reservation should not exceed 50 pc. But in Tamil Nadu, the judiciary could not do anything. Tamil Nadu could not have a special act which is not there in other states.

Is that the reason why you say the work is half done by the judiciary?

This is not the only reason. There is more to it. Reservation politics in Kerala [Images] was stranger than fiction all along. Kerala did not follow the directive of the Supreme Court to eliminate the creamy layer; instead it passed a bill in the assembly that there was no creamy layer in Kerala.

Did Tamil Nadu also say the same thing?

No, they are opposed to the elimination of creamy layer while Kerala went to the other extreme saying there was no creamy layer in the state.

After 15 years, it was in December 2007 that a decision was taken on the creamy layer by the Supreme Court.

Though the Supreme Court verdict now talks about the central reservation issue, do you feel it will have an implication in states as well?

Yes, it will have an implication in all the states.

Directly or indirectly?

Directly. But most of the states have taken the directive in a cynical sense.

Does that mean according to the new judgment, the creamy layer has to be excluded in the states too?

Yes, but based on the state reservation list, whether it is in education or employment. The verdict says that the quota should not exceed 50 pc and creamy layer should be excluded. Both are mandatory but most of the states have taken this very cynically. States look at other states and decide.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi says the very concept of creamy layer is not acceptable, Kerala said 15 years ago that there was no creamy layer there. That gives rise to another question. Who has benefitted from the reservation in the last several decades?

That is where we have to understand the meaning of "creamy layer". You don't see this usage anywhere else. The judiciary, for convenience, used this term. Very often, politicians don't understand what creamy layer is. But Karunanidhi understands it very well.

But is the term not self-explanatory?

Yes, it is self-explanatory. By creamy layer, the judiciary does not look at any individual caste group. There is a large group of socially and educationally backward classes which contains around 200-300 caste groups. So, the judiciary is talking about the cream that is there on top of this large group. After they claim the benefits of reservation, it is not the caste that is important but the individual.

But the judiciary is not talking about caste groups but individuals in a caste group.

In the case of identifying the creamy layer in a group, take for example, if I had taken the benefits of reservation, all I have to do is give a declaration whether I am affluent or not.

The Justice Prasad committee constituted to prepare the criteria to identify the creamy layer for OBCs had laid down six categories.

Then why is there this ambiguity about identifying the creamy layer if it has been properly classified? Is it very difficult to remove the cream?

It is difficult. Multiple tests have to be applied to eliminate but they don't use it. They use only the income test which is the last in the list and it was fixed in 1993. They have made it so simplistic. Even the IITs also use only the income category. And students are asked to bring a certificate stating that they don't belong to the creamy layer. And it is very easy to manipulate income. By simplifying the whole exercise and sticking only to income, we have manipulated the whole thing.

If a group of people continue to reap the benefits of reservation, won't those lag behind revolt?

That has started happening. The lowest categories in the SC/ST categories in many states have started agitating for special status. You see the violent agitation of Gujjars in Rajasthan.

Do we see those who have benefitted agitating against the beneficiaries of the same caste?

You will not see a group from the same caste agitating because we still live in a caste society. Caste patriotism is still there in Indian society. Unless there is a split, it will not happen in a community.

If we look at many politicians from the backward community, they are still taking the benefits of reservation. How can we call the son of a minister backward?

We are not saying they are backward. They are saying they are backward. They also won't call themselves backward other than taking the benefits of reservation.

Sixty years after independence, is it not high time to assess India's reservation policy?

It is not that the government has not done it, it has done it.

But how do you make an assessment? We don't have a baseline. And states are not willing to do it. It has to be a huge sociological exercise.

The judiciary wants to assess and remove the creamy layer as a group of people is blocking the way of others. In the case of reservation, there is only an entry; there is no exit now!

The forum Youth For Equality is a dissatisfied lot...

One of the biggest contributions of Arjun Singh [Images] is the birth of the Youth For Equality. Yes, they are dissatisfied for various reasons.

If you look at India, 50 pcof the population are below the age of 25. Youngsters are innocent and they have no caste or religion or community. That is what I see in Youth For Equality also. It started off as a movement and continues as a movement. What YRF works for is against the manipulative politicians.

But for the protest by YRF, the prime minister would not have constituted the committee headed by Veerappa Moily.

Is it good for the country if 50 pc of the population is discontented?

Obviously 50 pc of the population is discontented. The frustration of the youth at this level may come out in different forms. You have to go to villages to see the real discontent. 

I will give you the example of an institution in Tamil Nadu. Generally universities do have only 20-30 seats at the post graduate level. Out of 30, 20 seats are reserved under the 69 pc category. Out of the 10, there is reservation for the physically challenged. So, the general category gets only 3 or 4 seats. Obviously there is frustration. They start drifting, all because of state inaction. A misguided State is misguiding the youth.

If you want to know the discontented youth of India, you have to only look at the Maoist, Naxalite movements. The attitude of the State is, crush the movement. I would say 'no' to this. They are our children. I wouldn't equate Naxalism or Maoism in India with terrorism. When the State is mismanaging things and making life miserable for millions, discontent will appear in different forms. It will lead to chaos. You cannot have a Mahatma Gandhi [Images] all the time.

I would say, you address their problems instead of shooting at them.

Photo: Sreeram Selvaraj


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