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Mayawati's bill has sown the seeds for a serious caste divide

December 18, 2012 12:17 IST

Its passage, argues Sharat Pradhan, will only give rise to more bitterness and sharper social conflict, overcoming which might be easier said than done.

The demand for introducing reservation in promotions is clearly guided by vote bank politics. This demand by Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati is an offer that even her political adversaries could not refuse.

The reason is straight and simple -- no party has the guts to oppose the move for fear of being labeled anti-Dalit. Little wonder then that both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party found it convenient to fall in line with Mayawati, who is clearly hoping to reap a huge harvest at the next general election.

Mayawati was clear about the political potential of her move when she raised her demand for a Constitutional amendment to introduce reservations in promotions. That was soon after she lost the battle in the Supreme Court, after which she made it her one-point mission to get the law of the land altered through an amendment in the Constitution.

Mayawati had introduced reservations in promotions in Uttar Pradesh on September 17, 2007, barely four months after she assumed the chief minister's office with an absolute majority.

The order was challenged before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, whose division bench comprising Senior Judge Pradeep Kant and Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi held the order ultra vires of the Constitution on January 4, 2011.

The Mayawati government appealed to the Supreme Court where the high court order was upheld, leaving Mayawati high and dry.

Shortly thereafter, there was a change of guard in Lucknow when Mayawati was voted out of power, following which the Akhilesh Yadav government implemented the Supreme Court verdict through a government order on May 8, 2012.

The new order brought huge respite to thousands of general category government officials in Uttar Pradesh who had been denied promotions for five years on account of the pending litigation.

While some had given up hope, some had retired from service. The Supreme Court order once again brought light into their lives.

Significantly, it was not the first time that the Supreme Court had overruled the wishes of one government or the other on the crucial issue. As many as four attempts were made in the past to amend the Constitution to introduce reservations in promotions in government jobs.

The architects of these amendments -- both the Congress and the BJP -- had got these Amendments passed by Parliament.

But each time the Amendment was passed in Parliament -- the 77th Amendment in 1992; the 81st Amendment in 1995; the 82nd Amendement in 2001, and the 85th Amendment in 2009 -- it was challenged before the Supreme Court and set aside.

The last judgment by a five-judge Consitutional bench in November 2009 did allow reservations in promotions, but with three riders. These included proof of backwardness of the beneficiary; quantifiable data to establish denial of timely promotion as also substantive evidence to prove that such a promotion would not adversely affect the efficiency in administration.

What was tabled before the Rajya Sabha by Mayawati as the 117th Amendment Bill was clearly aimed at overcoming all possible hurdles. As such, every individual belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes has been deemed to be 'backward'.

The bill goes on to add, 'Nothing in the Article shall prevent the government from making provision for reservation in promotions.'

It also seeks to grant seniority to all beneficiaries with retrospect with effect from 1995, a move that is bound to create much bad blood among various categories of government servants.

The Congress and BJP both appeared equally inclined to ensure passage of the bill in the hope that it could accrue some electoral benefits to them in states other than UP, where Mayawati is bound to monopolise the Dalit vote.

Both the Congress and BJP are set to go to town impressing upon the Dalit population that but for them, reservations in promotions would have never seen the light of the day.

As for the Samajwadi Party, political compulsions led it to oppose the bill. After all, its core constituency is that of the Other Backward Classes who did not stand to gain anything from the proposed Constitutional Amendment.

Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav's statements indicated that he would have happily fallen in line with the bill had it brought OBCs within its ambit.

Both the Congress and BJP have been exposed in the bargain. That was why the two national parties were targeted by UP government employees who launched a state-wide agitation against the bill.

Work in several UP government departments has come to a standstill. The protestors, drawn from various state government departments, demand withdrawal of the bill.

Shailendra Dube, convener of the Sarvjan Hitai Sanrakshan Samiti, which is spearheading the protests in UP, believes the bill will disrupt the entire hierarchy in government.

'Reservation in promotions is an attempt to disturb the basic structure of the Constitution,' he said, 'and encroach upon the Right to Equality.'

Mayawati's bill has paved the ground for a sharp divide between government employees -- the protagonists and antagonists of the proposed policy. Employees favouring reservations under the banner of the Aarakshan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (Save Reservations Action Committee) claim that a million employees have resolved to work extra hours in support of the bill.

Avdhesh Kumar Verma, convener of the pro-reservations committee, accused the anti-reservationists of disrupting working in government offices. 'We have urged the government to keep all offices open on Saturdays so that we can make up for the loss caused on account of their strike,' Verma said.

Some retired bureaucrats, belonging to the Dalit community, have also raised the bogey of 'discrimination' and cite the very few Dalit officers at the highest levels of governance.

What they conveniently ignore is the fact that most Dalit bureaucrats failed to reach the top (secretary or additional secretary-level) because most of them are late entrants to the civil services on account of the age relaxation they are entitled to.

Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe applicants can enter the civil services until they are 32; general category applicants can only do so until they are 25.

These scheduled caste civil servants retired well before attaining the seniority required for the top positions.

There can be no denying that a few Dalit bureaucrats, who entered the civil service early on in their lives, occupied the most coveted positions in the country.

Mayawati's bill has sown the seeds for a serious caste divide. Its passage will only give rise to more bitterness and sharper social conflict, overcoming which might be easier said than done.

Sharat Pradhan