As the Central government has played Muslim quota card just before five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, going to polls, it is now palpable that the Congress-led UPA government is keen on consolidating its vote bank with the help of reservation politics. This is not the first case that the quota system was made a tool for getting electoral gains. Truly speaking, reservation has now become a medium to gain votes. As the Centre announces 4.5 percent quota for Muslims within the reservation for OBC, Ajit Singh, newly incumbent of Union Cabinet, hurled his demand for Jat reservation. Though, reservation was also incorporated in the Lokpal Bill however there is no point of providing reservation in a body meant for rooting out corruption, but the Central establishment has stirred up political landscape by doing so. The nub of the matter is why should there be selection of Lokpal and Lokayukta on the ground of caste and creed? The selection of members for anti-graft body should be based on integrity and probity, which could boost their image among public, but the government wants to play politics in this regard as well. 

India is a sovereign country where people of different faiths, religions and creeds live together. The diversity of Indian society is conundrum for the western countries. They are surprised, how India is together marching ahead despite such diversity. The reason behind this solidarity is keenness for making their identification as Indians with the feelings of coordination and harmony. It is disappointing that political parties are not only creating fissure among people of different faiths and creeds in order to get power, rather making them stand off. After Independence, it was felt to provide reservation to socially marginalized people in order to bring them into mainstream and a provision was made to give quota to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes for about 10 years. Later, owing to political compulsion the period of reservation was extended and other backward classes were also included into it. Now, everyone is demanding reservation, despite the fact that reservation cannot exceed 50 percent. Today every political party has made it a political tool. No one wants to think whether the reservation is meeting its purpose. Despite adverse effect of giving reservation in education and government jobs on social harmony, the political parties are not ready to mull over its shortcomings.       

The Centre has kicked off a new debate by providing reservation on sectarian ground, while the Constitution does not allow it. Despite the Constitutional ban on reservation on sectarian ground, the backward lot in minority group has been given quota in nine states including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra. The Central government has given status of other backward class to minority group and it is assumed that this decision may be scrapped by the judiciary. The BJP has pooh-poohed the Centre’s move stating that this could lead to a civil war, while other opposition parties minced no words saying that quota for Muslims is not sufficient and a political gimmick. As the BJP vividly knows that Muslims would not vote it, so the party is trying to cash in on Hindu feelings. If the BJP wants to protest reservation, it should raise all shortcomings of the quota system. Observing sectarian reservation reflects vote-bank politics.

Everyone knows it well that the Central government has taken decision of providing quota for Muslims just before assembly elections in five states so that it could take political gains in these states particularly in UP. The Congress knew it well that without consolidating vote bank, the party would not get success in the assembly elections, but there is a misgiving that the Congress would get political benefits by providing quota to the Muslims, because they know that the Centre’s decision has only a symbolic significance. Muslims were already getting benefit of 27 percent OBC reservation.  They also know that only Muslim representation in the Lokpal body would not change their social-economic contour. However, the Centre has cited the logic that it has fulfilled the demands of its manifesto of 2009, but the government fails to explain why did it take two years for keeping its words? Now it is pertinent that the Supreme Court should mull over the reservation, because such kind of politics is not good as it divides the society on caste and sect line.

Undoubtedly, caste factor is a reality for Indian society and right now it is difficult to remove caste and sectarian identity, but it is not impossible. Many developed nations have got success in this regard and therefore common civil code has been implemented in these countries. In order to bulldoze the wall of caste and sect, political parties will have to stop reservation politics. This is only possible when there is a reservation system in which standards of merit should not be compromised. It is high time that all political parties should think earnestly over the quota system to ensure that the reservation is a tool for vote bank politics. This is not an easy task, because there is still a haze over the creamy layer owing to parochial political interests. Now, there is ruckus over sectarian reservation only, but it is need of the hour that there should be a renewed discussion over the quota system.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on December 25, 2011 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)