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The Daily Fix: Karnataka's decision to increase caste quotas has nation-wide repercussions

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The Big Story: Politics of quota

Over the last two years, more communities have been taking to the streets to demand quotas in educational institutions and government jobs. Some of them, like the Jats in Haryana and Patels in Gujarat, have managed to convince their state governments to include them in the reservation structure. But such moves have subsequently been struck down by the judiciary because they violated the 50% reservation limit laid down by the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case.

The latest to enter the quota controversy is Karnataka. In a clear act of political one-upmanship, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced on Wednesday that his government was aiming to increase reservations in jobs and colleges for the weaker sections to 70% from the current 50%.

The announcement was fueled by the massive rally by members of the other backward classes that the Bharatiya Janata Party organised in Bengaluru in November. The BJP, led by state president YS Yeddyurappa, has promised to bring in laws to nullify the 50% cap on reservations if voted to power in 2018.

This development has brought back to the fore a debate that has raged ever since the Supreme Court delivered the Indira Sawhney judgment in 1993, now famously referred to as the Mandal case. The court put a limit on reservations, even as it accepted the principle that quotas were an essential element to further the cause of social justice in a society riddled by caste discrimination. However, many political parties, especially in the south, have questioned the rationale behind the cap and have even claimed that the Supreme Court decision was arbitrary.

Tamil Nadu responded to the Mandal judgment by increasing reservations to 69% and placing the law in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. The constitutional provision gave the state law immunity from judicial scrutiny. But in 2009, the Supreme Court decided to hear a petition challenging Tamil Nadu’s quota law, this time wanting to test if the law violated the basic structure of the Constitution rather than a violation of fundamental rights.

Karnataka seems to be on a much stronger wicket than Tamil Nadu since it has completed a socio-economic and caste survey, the results of which are expected to be released in January. It was based on these findings that the state was hoping to accomplish the task of increasing the quota limit. Time and again, the Supreme Court has questioned the empirical basis of any alteration to the quota laws, which this survey hopes to provide.

However, given the larger trend across India of even historically affluent communities demanding quotas, absolute caution is necessary in allowing any changes to the reservation laws. Providing affirmative action to such groups could end up jeopardising the very idea of social justice that the quotas aim to establish. In Karnataka, too, mere numbers should not be allowed to dominate the discourse of reservations and let competitive backwardness, as the Supreme Court put it recently, to hijack a defining feature of the Constitution.

The Big Scroll

  • In Mumbai, the Marathas flaunted their might as they took out massive rallies demanding reservations. 

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Punditry

  1. In The Hindu, Suhrith Parthasarathy argues that the judiciary cannot be accused of overreach if it chose to review the demonetisation decision. 
  2. Suhas Palshikar in the Indian Express says the Supreme Court’s verdict on the national anthem comes as a setback to the liberal ethos of the apex court. 
  3. In the Mint, Indira Rajaraman says policies like demonetisation negated structural reforms and disrupted investments. 

Don’t miss

Standing in queues for hours to withdraw cash has severely hurt the productivity of factory workers, reports Abhishek Dey.

  “To waste a morning in a bank queue is to sacrifice a day’s wage,” said 46-year-old Pashupati Singh, one of the workers at the meeting. “Employers are keeping a strict tab on working hours. Also, because of the cash crisis, factories are not operating at full capacity. So even if a worker shows up by lunch time, the employers do not entertain him for half-day’s work.”  

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