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India Review

ISSN: 1473-6489 (Print) 1557-3036 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/find20

Reservations, Exclusion, and Conflict: Some
Insights From Mandal and Mysore
Narendar Pani
To cite this article: Narendar Pani (2010) Reservations, Exclusion, and Conflict: Some Insights
From Mandal and Mysore, India Review, 9:4, 397-424, DOI: 10.1080/14736489.2010.523617
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14736489.2010.523617

Published online: 09 Nov 2010.

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Date: 19 October 2016, At: 23:51

India Review, vol. 9, no. 4, October–December, 2010, pp. 397–424
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN 1473-6489 print; 1557-3036 online
DOI:10.1080/14736489.2010.523617

Reservations, Exclusion, and Conflict:
Some Insights From Mandal and Mysore
1557-3036
1473-6489
FIND
India
Review,
Review Vol. 9, No. 4, Oct 2010: pp. 0–0

NARENDAR PANI
Insights
India
Review
From Mandal and Mysore

Introduction
Caste-based reservations (quotas) in India over the past two decades
have been reinforced as a mechanism for consolidating caste identities
and conflict. In a country of India’s dimensions, it would be overly
optimistic to expect the complete disappearance of local conflicts
based on caste and religion, Reservations, however, place these conflicts on a much larger stage. The violence, including self-immolation,
that erupted after the implementation of the Mandal Commission
Report, put reservations and caste conflict on the national stage.1 The
national platform has added to the vehemence of the debate on castebased reservations of government jobs and admissions to educational
institutions in India. The intensity of this debate has, in turn, tended
to blur the distinction between the very different questions that are
sometimes being addressed. These can range from those that relate to
the desirability of reservations to those that implicitly accept the
need for reservations and question the group criteria to qualify for
this benefit.
Two decades after the Mandal Commission Report was implemented there are indications that the focus consistently shifts toward
the latter set of questions. The aggressive campaign by the Gujjars in
Rajasthan for Scheduled Tribe status is an example of this trend.2
Additionally, the question of who should qualify for reservations
gains an even greater significance when a case is made for the forward
castes to be brought into the net. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Kumari Mayavati, used the
campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to make her case for reservations for the poor among the upper castes.3 This demand raises a
Narendar Pani is a Professor in the Conflict Resolution Programme at the National Institute
of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.

398

India Review

number of issues that have not always got the attention they deserve,
ranging from the use of economic criteria by the supporters of reservations (and not just by its opponents) to whether such an exercise
would reduce the potential for conflict between castes. To begin with,
what happens to the entire process of reservations for backward castes
if the forward castes are also brought into it? Or, to put it differently,
what is the difference between reservations that totally exclude the
castes that are considered forward and reservations that do not do so?
The recent history of debates on reservations in India may suggest
that there is little real experience that can be used to answer this question. These debates have tended to focus on the issues that generally
arise between those who benefit from caste-based reservations and
those who do not.4 It has often been taken for granted, especially by
the Mandal Commission, that the beneficiaries would be the backward castes alone. In his letter forwarding the report of his Commission to the President of India, BP Mandal made it quite clear that their
task was only to identify the backward classes and to suggest measures
for their advancement.5 But, if we go back through the long history of
reservations in India we do find examples of reservations that did not
exclude the more dominant castes. Prominent among them is the case
of reservations implemented in Mysore in 1921,6 which had room for
some of the most dominant castes in the then princely state.
A shift in the focus to a southern Indian state does bring with it a
number of issues, ranging from the caste composition of the southern
parts of the country to claims of the high reservations in these states
contributing to efficiency.7 Prominent among this rather wide range
of issues is a belief that the reservations in southern India generated
much less violence than those in the north. The Mandal Commission,
in fact, commissioned a study “to explain why the introduction of . . .
reservation in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka was accepted by the
adversely affected population without violent protest, and why similar measures in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, provoked a violent backlash.”8 Those who seek an answer to this question tend to look at the
overall context of reservation implementation in southern India rather
than the nature of reservations itself. The study commissioned by the
Mandal Commission also listed nine hypotheses pointing to a variety
of socio-economic and political factors that could influence the degree
of conflict. These hypotheses addressed different dimensions of social
relations in southern India. But, none of the nine hypotheses related

Insights From Mandal and Mysore

399

to the specific type of reservation that was sought to be implemented;
they did not directly relate to the possible effects of the inclusion of
dominant castes in the list of reservation beneficiaries. Thus, when we
point to the differences between reservations that exclude the dominant castes and reservations that do not, it is also important to ask
whether this will help explain the different reactions to reservations in
northern and southern India, especially in terms of violent conflict.
In trying to provide an entirely empirical answer to this question,
we come up against a methodological hurdle. Even accepting the contention that southern India has seen a less violent reaction to reservations than the north, this could be the result of a number of factors
and not just reservations alone. The tactical political skills of those
seeking to implement reservations would influence the response. This
would vary from situation to situation. The difference in the reaction
could also be the result of society in the south having built more buffers against violent social conflict than that in the north. In which case,
even if reservations generate great discontent, they need not result in
greater violent conflict. In this paper, however, we do not attempt a
comprehensive empirical account of the differences between reservations in the north and in the south of India. Our question is narrower
and focuses on whether there could be designs of reservation that are
more or less prone to violent reactions than other possible designs.
The empirical exploration of the facts surrounding the Mandal and
Mysore reservations is thus intended to distill theoretical concepts of
reservations reflected in the two experiences. It must be stressed that
the empirical exercise is not designed to capture the two experiences
of reservations in their entirety. All that is sought are insights that
would allow us to formulate consistent theoretical models of reservations. These insights are then translated into simple abstract models.
This would also help us develop the concepts of reservations-withexclusion and reservations-without-exclusion. We could then identify
specific elements in the two concepts that make them less or more
prone to conflict.
In this article, we initially look at the broad patterns of reservations
reflected in the Mandal Commission report and the experience of the
princely state of Mysore, and later Karnataka. On the basis of these
patterns, we formulate simple models of reservations-with-exclusion
and reservations-without-exclusion. We next argue that the conflict
generated by reservations-without-exclusion is likely, for a variety of

400

India Review

reasons, to be less intense than those generated through reservationswith-exclusion. Reservations-with-exclusion create a greater distance
between the beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries of the exercise; they
accentuate the pressures of comparison; they are based on an ideological approach to the challenge of inequality that lays greater emphasis
on conflict; and they are more difficult to end when there is no longer
a need for reservations.

Mandal Commission
As with all efforts at reservations the Mandal Commission needs to be
understood in terms of the political context in which it operated. The
Backward Classes Commission was set up under BP Mandal in 19789
when there was still hope that the unity that gave the Janata Party a
historic electoral victory the year before would survive. It was not
long before the pressure on this unity began to show, reflecting the
diverse coalition that had been brought under the umbrella of a single
party. By the time the Commission submitted its report in December
1980, the Janata experiment had collapsed and a Congress government
was in power. The altered political circumstances allowed the report
to be put on the backburner. It was a decade later that the political circumstances again changed to favor the revival of the report. With the
Hindutva movement on the ascendant and Prime Minister VP Singh
needing to gain support among the backward classes it was decided to
implement the report in 1990.10 The divisions built into reservations
for backward classes were then pitted against the divisions emerging
from Hindutva. The upper caste rejection of the Mandal report made
effective use of the political momentum that was simultaneously
building up around Hindutva.
The suitability of the Mandal Commission’s report for the political
task it was assigned by Prime Minister VP Singh is built around the
fact that the commission saw itself as primarily representing the Backward Castes rather than seeking equality by representing the interests
of all castes. This was made clear in the terms of reference. One of the
terms of reference was to “examine the desirability or otherwise of
making provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in
favor of such backward classes of citizens which are not adequately
represented in public services and posts in connection with the affairs
of the Union or of any State.”11 The question of adequate representation was restricted to the case of the backward classes and was not to

Insights From Mandal and Mysore

401

be extended to look into the adequacy of the representation of classes
that were not backward. Additionally, the tone the Commission
adopted made it clear that it saw its task as one of protecting the interests of the backward classes alone, with the report at one point comparing the relations between forward and backward castes to that of
apartheid in South Africa.12
The report also left little room for doubt that the use of the term
“class” was only because of the requirements of Article 15(4) of the
Constitution of India. There has been considerable legal debate on
whether the term backward classes in that article can be taken to mean
caste alone. The Supreme Court had ruled in 1963 that, while caste
was relevant in Indian society, it could not be the sole or dominant
test to determine backwardness.13 Five years later, in 1968, the
Supreme Court clarified that if a caste as a whole was socially and educationally backward, reservations could be made in its favor within
the meaning of Article 15(4).14 This judicial background determined
the definition of the eleven criteria of backwardness that the Mandal
Commission identified. In each of the criteria, it preferred to use the
term “Castes/Classes.”15 It also emphasized the social and educational
criteria over the economic. When working out the overall index of
backwardness, the four social indicators were given a weight of three
points each, whereas the three educational indicators had a weight of
two points each. The four economic indicators, which would presumably have had the greatest emphasis if the focus was on class, got a
weight of only one point each.16
To the preferences that were built into this system of weights must
be added the effects of a methodology that had greater scope for flexibility than rigor. It is, of course, very difficult to come up with a
methodology to identify backward castes that will be acceptable
across the rather deep caste and class divisions that characterize Indian
society. The fact that the Census has not collected data on castes since
1931 does not help. But, the Commission also made the task more difficult for itself. It ignored the views of the three social scientists it had
appointed as advisors, M.N. Srinivas, Jogendra Singh, and B.K. Roy
Burman.17 Some of the criteria it adopted as indicators of backwardness were not beyond questioning. For instance, it took as an indicator of backwardness “Castes/Classes where the participation of
females in work is at least 25 percent above the State average.”18 This
criterion is, no doubt, inspired by the fact that women in some of the

402

India Review

most backward groups in society are forced to work out of economic
necessity. But, to argue that women working is always a sign of backwardness, particularly when no mention is made of the type of work,
makes this a criterion prone to misrepresentation. Moreover, this has
been taken as a social criterion, with the maximum weight of three
points. Add a variety of other weaknesses in the questionnaires and
the way in which they were canvassed,19 and the Commission’s claims
of utilizing objective criteria are disputable.
The failure to arrive at criteria whose objectivity would be considered
good enough by most was bound to have effects on the credibility of the
conclusions of the Commission. This was particularly so since the conclusions of the Commission were seen to be meeting political ends. The fact
that the criteria for backwardness ensured that 52 percent of the population would benefit seemed to fit all too neatly into the requirements of
electoral politics. As Jafrelot has pointed out, “with 52% of Indian
society, the OBCs represented in many constituencies an unbeatable
majority.20 The Commission also made it clear that it believed that “52%
of all posts under the Central Government should be reserved for them.”21
But, there was a well established judicial view, going back to the Supreme
Court ruling in the case of MR Balaji v. the State of Mysore in 1963 that
the total number of reserved posts, including those for Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes, could not exceed 50 percent. The Mandal Commission acknowledged that its preference of 52 percent reservation for the
backward castes alone (thereby taking total reservations to 74.5 percent)
“may go against the law laid down in a number of Supreme Court
judgments wherein it has been held that the total quantum of reservations
under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution should be below 50%.
In view of this legal constraint, the Commission is obliged to recommend
a reservation of 27% only, even though their population is almost twice
this figure.”22 Together with the 22.5 percent reservation for the Scheduled
Castes and Tribes this would bring the total reservation to 49.5 percent,
just below the 50 percent ceiling.
In an apparent bid to make up for this necessity of staying within
this legal limit, the Mandal Commission emphasized a number of other
measures aimed at expanding the reservations for the backward castes.
In particular it recommended that “Candidates belonging to OBCs
recruited on the basis of merit in an open competition should not be
adjusted against their reservation quota of 27%.”23 This meant that if,
with overall development, the backward castes were able to match other

Insights From Mandal and Mysore

403

castes and got their legitimate share of the posts through open competition, they would still have the benefit of an additional 27 percent reservation. This was potentially a much more disruptive provision than the
reservations themselves. Marc Galanter has commented on the curious
fact that “the permissibility of these over and above reservations has not
been the subject of constitutional challenge in recent years, although a
generation ago several courts found them objectionable.”24
The disruptive pressure of “over and above” reservations was not
confined to the relations between the backward and the forward
castes. When seen in the context of the larger trends in the economy
and polity, it had the potential to increase disparities among the backward castes themselves. This is quite evident once we recognize the
divergent trends in the economy and polity that were becoming more
pronounced in the 1990s. The process of liberalization was to gather
momentum only after the balance of payments crisis in 1991, but by
the end of the 1980s the foundations for a take-off in private industry
had already been laid. The capital market, in particular, had taken firm
roots. At the same time the rural economy was beginning to slow
down after the Green Revolution of the earlier decade. Consequently,
the share of agriculture in national income began its slide down, having reached 35 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 1990-91, from
42 percent a decade earlier.25 This was a trend that was to become even
sharper over the next two decades. Rural India thus saw its relative
economic strength dwindling even as its numbers in parliament gave it
greater political clout. Not surprisingly, the political strength was
used to demand greater state support to the rural sector. In the
absence of a larger strategy for the transformation of the rural economy, this took the form of patronage. The distribution of this patronage demanded that each caste seek greater influence over the
bureaucracy. Caste-based reservations were the means to this end. At
the same time, the children of the beneficiaries of reservation were
now able to access the better-quality educational facilities available in
the urban areas. They were thus distanced from other members of
backward castes in most rural areas. Their access to better educational
facilities gave them the opportunity to compete for the so-called merit
posts. The Mandal Commission’s insistence on “over and above” reservations meant that if these second generation beneficiaries failed in
the open competition they could fall back on the reserved quota. Since
even those second generation beneficiaries who could not succeed in

404

India Review

the open category would have had access to better facilities than those
in remote regions, they were bound to dominate the reserved category. This necessarily further reduced the scope for members of backward castes in the less developed regions.
The growing disparity among the backward castes between those
who had benefited from reservations and those who had been left
behind generated two kinds of responses. From within the backward
castes, there was a demand for distinction to be made between the
most backward and the less backward. Indeed, there was a dissenting
note within the Mandal Commission by L.R. Naik, making precisely
this demand. As B.P. Mandal noted in his letter submitting the report
to the President, L.R. Naik’s main contention was that “the Statewise list of Other Backward Classes should be split into two parts:
one pertaining to Intermediate Backward Classes and other to
Depressed Backward Classes. Under Depressed Backward Classes,
he has grouped those castes which, according to him, constitute the
most deprived and under-privileged sections of the Backward
Classes. His contention is that they should be treated as a separate
entity for purposes of benefits and concessions recommended in the
Report. Clubbing these two categories, he feels, will not result in
equitable distribution of benefits to these two groups.”26 Naik’s
arguments had little effect on the recommendations of the Mandal
Commission.
The other response was from the judiciary. The focus here was on
keeping out those among the backward castes who had no real claims
to reservation. In November 1992 the Supreme Court laid down that
the “Creamy layer amongst backward class of citizens must be
excluded by fixation of proper income, property or status criteria.”27
Though this did result in a conflict with the legislature, the Supreme
Court reiterated in December 1999 that the creamy layer must be kept
out.28
Thus, much of the debate around the Mandal Commission report
focused on excluding groups from the benefits of reservation, which
can be traced to an underlying perception of reservations as primarily
an exercise to correct past wrongs. Groups that have not been the subject of extreme exploitation must then be kept out. Those that are no
longer exploited must cease to form any part of the reservation exercise. In addition, the dominant view in the Mandal Commission was
that no distinction should be made within the backward castes.


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