Caste-based reservations policy has outlived its utility and must go.


Empower through education, not reservation: PM Nehru

The following is the text of a letter Pandit Nehru wrote to chief ministers on June 27, 1961.

The following is the text of a letter Pandit Nehru wrote to chief ministers on June 27, 1961, emphasising on the need for empowering backward groups by giving them access to good and technical education, and not by reserving jobs based on caste and creed:

I have referred above to efficiency and to our getting out of our traditional ruts. This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group. The recent meeting we held here, at which the chief ministers were present, to consider national integration, laid down that help should be given on economic considerations and not on caste.

It is true that we are tied up with certain rules and conventions about helping Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They deserve help but, even so, I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in service. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost.

The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities for good education. This includes technical education, which is becoming more and more important. Everything else is provision of some kind of crutches which do not add to the strength or health of the body.

We have made recently two decisions which are very important: One is, universal free elementary education, that is the base; and the second is scholarships on a very wide scale at every grade of education to bright boys and girls, and this applies not merely to literary education, but, much more so, to technical, scientific and medical training. I lay stress on bright and able boys and girls. I have no doubt that there is a vast reservoir of potential talent in this country if only we can give it opportunity.

But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal consideration.

It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Lets help the backward groups by all means, but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?

(Jawaharlal Nehru, Letters to chief ministers 1947-1964, Volume 5, Oxford University Press, 1989, PP 456-7)

Over 70 years, the policy has admittedly helped some people from our weaker sections of society. But most of the members of those sections have yet to benefit.

We believe that the caste – based reservations have outlived their utility and must be phased out. We must mend now and end later.

Reservations – particularly since early 90s- have discriminated unfairly against the so called “general categories”. The adverse effects of “discriminating policies” are already and clearly visible. Poverty knows no religion. Poverty knows no caste. Poverty is a curse and subjects its victims to sub human conditions, robs them of their dignity and self-respect.

Growth for all is the answer; not reservations.

Reservations was meant to be a short term stop gap measure, not a long-term solution. Our politicians have found it a convenience way to build vote blocks and win election. In fact, there is ever greater pressure to further expand the scope of reservations. This is easy and a lazy way; much harder than pursuing growth and development and creating jobs and opportunities for everyone. Growth and development alone can provide the lasting solution.

Reservations policy were reluctantly accepted and introduced by our leaders as a stop gap solution for 10 years for SC/ST only. Populist politics led to enlargement of scope to OBCs. Today, a majority of population – over 60% – benefits from the reservations policy. But only a fraction of members of those community have benefited. Rest of the population – say 40% from general categories from Brahmins, Kshastriyas and Muslim- have been left to fend for themselves. Worse, there are pressures to further expand the scope of reservations to include private sector jobs.

Reservations for majority?

Only other country with reservations for majority is Malaysia. The results are clear; once at par with neighboring Singapore, Malaysia today is 1/4th as prosperous and developed as Singapore. Just in 50 years.

This policy of Reservations saps energy of a society by undermining merit and search of excellence. It sends wrong signal that we select mediocracy over meritocracy. It shows that we are willing to lower the bar and accept “kam chalau” solutions. Why? For how long? The reality is that there are not enough jobs even if you reserve 100% of the jobs for the any sections.

Worse, more you reserve, lesser the jobs you create and thus, this policy harms the very people it is meant to benefit. Those whom it is designed to serve do not get much; those it discriminates against feel deprived and humiliated.

Why no reservations in Indian Army and Cricket team?

Even India does not have reservations in areas where excellent matters the most. Why don’t we have reservations in the India Army? Air Force? Navy? Cricket Team?

Reservations perpetuates our differences and damages national integration

We are a diverse country. “India is an idea”, as our visionary PM said. That idea needs to be actively nurtured thru the hard work of nation building and national integration. That alone can create United States of India and strengthen our unified federal structure. If we are not careful, divisive tendencies across caste, religion, region and language can “balkanize” India.

In search of excellence

When you pursue excellence, you must only look at merit. We are an old civilization but a young nation. We must excel to earn our place at the top of the league of nations.

Our respected PM Modi ji has set a target of 5T by 2024. Our respected CM Yogi ji has set the target of 1T for UP by 2024. We can only achieve these goals if we pursue excellence, work as a team and reward merit alone.

Caste-based Reservations must be phased out

Reservations in its current form must eventually end. For now, we must mend it.

One possible idea is to introduce a “disadvantage index” that assigns a certain points to an individual or group based upon their socio economic situation. New technologies like AI and Blockchain can help in this. This will be akin to the concept of “handicap” in golf. This disadvantage index can be applied to the individual’s academic or work performance to determine “normalized” score and thus, create a more open and competitive environment.

Over time, the importance of the disadvantage index can be lowered and eventually abolished. That day, we would have created a truly unified India when there are equal opportunities for every Indian. Not outcomes; but opportunities to make the most of his/her potential. A day I long for. That day, India will be the best country in the entire World. Our Sarvottam Bharat Desh.