Whatever their original motivation may have been, 70 years later reservations are not actually about alleviating poverty. The politics of caste allegations have grown rapidly in recent decades, fueling their aggressive development. As a result, the courts have compounded their actions in a way that follows the political flow, rather than defending the constitutional guardrails on the issue.
Despite the high income cap of this quota and its high caste makeup, the highest court affirmed both an EWS quota and an arguable infringement of the 50% lakshman rekha this week. In sum, the four separate interpretations of the EWS ruling have only served to sow further confusion and uncertainty.
A regulation passed in Maharashtra last year that favoured the Marathas while increasing the total quotas in the state above 50% was unanimously ruled unlawful by a constitution panel. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has recently signalled that the reservation effort will be moving on with renewed vigour. Jats, Gujjars, Vokkaligas, and the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand will also participate.
There is also growing support for quotas based on population size. The political system that has fueled all this heated bickering will forever be forced to strike a delicate balance between competing interest groups.
Reservations in local body elections present an entirely new set of challenges for various jurisdictions. It’s possible that the judicial system has to step back.
Legislative initiatives to impose additional quotas have less to do with addressing disadvantage (whether historical, economic, or overlapping) than they do with consolidating vociferous caste vote banks. As a result of focusing on this false path to welfare instead of the means-tested programmes that helped China rise, India will suffer.
Creamy layers will continue to grab limited chances so long as governments, community, and judges are more focused in increasing reservations than decent education and jobs.