Jug Suraiya | Oct 12, 2011, 12.00AM IST
In the eyes of the law, giving or taking a bribe is a crime. However,
bribery is not a crime when the bribe given is by the government to
the people, or to certain electorally important - read vote bank -
sections of the people.
Caste-based quotas of various forms, from reservations in jobs to
admission into educational institutions, have been an accepted part of
vote-bank politics since Independence. The policy of reservations -
affirmative action on the part of the government to help the social
and economic uplift of communities which have suffered cruel
oppression over millennia - was initially supposed to last 10 years,
after which it would be reviewed.
Sixty-four years after Independence, quotas and reservations have
proliferated and become inextricably entrenched in the system.
Originally meant only for dalits and tribals, the quota system has,
thanks to the pressures of competitive populism, been inevitably
extended post-Mandal to cover various categories of OBCs. Demands have
also been raised for separate quotas for the weaker sections among
religious minorities. If quotas are seen as reserved slices cut from a
pie, it seems that soon there will be more reserved slices than there
Undaunted by this paradox, the government - its image battered by
corruption charges and uncheckable inflation - is reportedly proposing
to extend the quota system beyond government jobs to include the field
of entrepreneurship. Sarkari policymakers are said to be working out a
scheme, first proposed during the tenure of UPA-I, that 4% of all
government purchases will be made from companies owned by dalits and
tribals. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the quantum of
business which would be directed to SC/ST-run firms could amount to
anything between 25,000 crore and94,000 crore a year.
The scheme seems to have been motivated with an eye to the 2012 UP
assembly polls. Having failed in its attempt to extend job
reservations for SC/STs to the private sector, the government is
hoping that its proposed 4% solution will seduce the dalit vote away
from Mayawati and help to reconsolidate the tarnished image of the
Congress as a champion of the aam admi.
While the avowed objective of the scheme is social and economic
justice for the oppressed, shorn of its window dressing it is a clear
case of government-sanctioned bribery based on vote-catching
calculations. It is undeniable that dalits and tribals continue to
suffer brutal discrimination and deprivation. But it is also
undeniable that the strategy of redressal through diverse kinds of
reservations and quotas - pursued not only by the Congress but by
almost all political parties - has more often than not intensified
inter-caste antagonisms and has deepened the schisms in Indian
society. In the present case, the question to be raised is: To ensure
national progress for all, should government tenders go to the most
competitive bidders, or should a percentage be reserved to create
Quotas and reservations have been an unqualified success in only one
thing, and that is in the creation of captive vote banks for political
parties. In other words, they have proved to be a successful form of
openly practised political bribery.
Bribery and corruption, and the long overdue need for electoral
reform, have come to the centrestage of public discourse, partly
thanks to Anna Hazare and his followers. Even those who disagree with
Anna`s extra-parliamentary methods agree that corruption and electoral
malpractice are the twin evils which have to be exorcised from our
Are reservations a politically correct euphemism for bribery? Is it
time to cleanse the electoral system of vote-bank manipulation?
Inconvenient questions which need inconvenient people to ask them.
Hands up those prepared to be inconvenient today.
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