Reservation is a bad idea. It goes against the cardinal democratic principle of equality. There are, however, two major exceptions which fair-minded people feel are justified. Both arose from historic compulsions. The first is that of the Black community in USA. Their forefathers were captured and shipped from Africa under horrific conditions, and then sold as slaves, mainly to large plantation owners who needed cheap labour. A long and bloody civil war was fought to end this slavery and keep the country united. Since this major section of the American population — 12 per cent — had been discriminated against for generations and was largely illiterate and poor, it was felt that a policy of ‘affirmative action’ was just and befitting. Hence, African-Americans were given preference in many ways, including education and employment. This was what could be called ‘positive discrimination’. But a time limit was given. As a result, ‘affirmative action’ has been gradually phased out. Though racial inequality persists in USA, the plight of African-Americans is distinctly better than it was say 50 years ago. The election of Barack Obama as President was a telling testimony.
The second major exception lies here in our country. It relates to the section of the population once referred to as ‘Untouchables’. Mahatma Gandhi called them ‘Harijans’ (children of God), an appellation which was later discarded as being too patronising. ‘Dalit’ was preferred, though in the Constitution, they are designated as Scheduled Castes. They were given reservation in government jobs, admission to educational institutions, etc. The principle of equality was shelved temporarily, the argument being that time was needed for them to catch up. However, what was intended to be temporary has become firmly entrenched, unlike in the US. The pernicious vote-bank politics has exerted a heavy price.
Worse, our short-sighted politicians have extended the reservation policy to Other Backward Classes. We now have a situation where in some states close to half the population is considered ‘backward’ for electoral purposes, a perversion of the initial policy of reservation. The Haryana government has just gone one dangerous step further. In November, it passed the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Bill, 2020. On March 2, the Governor dutifully gave his assent. Basically, it requires all private firms to reserve 75 per cent of new jobs, with a gross monthly salary of up to Rs 50,000, for candidates who have either lived in the state for 15 years or who were born there. The only entities excluded are the Central and state governments.
The brazenness of the Haryana government is breathtaking. The legislation flouts the Constitution. Article 16 guarantees equal opportunity, while Article 19 allows citizens to move freely within the country, settle in any part, and take up any lawful profession. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of caste, sex or place of birth. The only exception is the disadvantaged sections like Dalits. However, that has nothing to do with where a person lives.
What will be the consequences of the Haryana Act on the ground? Let us take just one instance: Gurugram, which attracts ambitious and talented youngsters from all over India and abroad. The ‘millennium city’ boasts of the presence of IT giants, which are now bound to have second thoughts about staying in Gurugram and could consider moving out to an economically healthier and more welcoming place. Fresh investment will also dry up.
But Haryana is not alone in following such a myopic, ruinous policy. The late Shiv Sena founder and father of the present Maharashtra Chief Minister, Bal Thackeray, who publicly declared his admiration for Adolf Hitler, set the ‘locals only’ policy rolling a long time ago, except that he did it not by legislation but by fear and unbridled violence. MK Stalin, who heads the DMK, in alliance with the Congress, has stated in his party’s manifesto that if his party was voted to power, 75 per cent of jobs in the state’s industrial units would go to locals. The Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka Chief Ministers have said much the same thing.
Before more states take up the cue, the courts need to step in fast. What is at stake is nothing less than the economic future of the country, as well as its unity. The reservation of jobs for locals will scare away foreign investment and Balkanise us. Is that what the likes of the Haryana Chief Minister really want? Indeed, is that what the BJP and the Congress, who are complicit, also want? There is so much talk about the “tukde tukde gang”. The real leaders of this gang are those who put narrow political gains before the larger interests of the nation.
— The writer is a veteran journalist
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