LDF government's quota for forward castes draws flak

Kozhikode: The move for 10 per cent reservation in government employment initiated by Kerala's ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has seen its first ripples of resistance from backward communities.

Although the concept of quota for the poor sections of forward communities has been in the air for several decades,  they have not yet succeeded in winning legislative or legal assent, as it runs counter to India's constitutional provisions that lays down reservation for  only socially and educationally backward sections,  and not economically backward.  

However, advocates of the forward classes (meaning in effect mostly the upper castes in Hindu community and a small section of Christians, whose percentage in educational attainments and representation in government services is high when compared with their population percentage) have been clamouring for reservation for the poor segment of such communities. The plea raised by them is that due to the sole reason of being poor they are deprived of the means for pursuing higher education,  suffer from poverty and need governmental support in the form of fixed quota of jobs. But this contention militates against the principle of reservation in government services that guarantees representation for the under- represented sections in the corridors of bureaucracy and consequently in share of power.

The latest protest against forward caste reservation has come in the wake of the LDF government's decision to grant 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward among Hindu forward castes in recruitment to all the five Devaswom boards and the Kerala Devaswom Recruitment Boards in the state. The boards together manage over 3000 Hindu temples, schools and colleges in the state and thus wield wide influence. Further, the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan claimed in a tweet that it is for the first time in the country that the economically backward among foward castes are being given reservations.

It may be recalled that employment in Devaswom boards are limited to castes of the HIndu community and therefore reservation for Muslims and Christians applied to other government institutions, does not apply here. And in a related decision, the government has increased reservation in Devaswom boards for people from SC/ST communities from 10 per cent to 12 per cent, of Ezhava community from 14 per cent to 17 per cent, Hindu Other Backward Communities (OBC) excluding Ezhavas from 3 per cent to 6 per cent .  

More than the mere decision to apply it in Devaswom Boards appointments,  it is the infusion of this economic element into the matrix of reservation that prompts criticism from backward communities, in addition to the actual loss of opportunities. For, the Chief Minister who is also a prominent leader of Communist Party Marxist (CPM), a traditional champion of economic reservation, went on to ask the Centre to introduce constitutional amendments to provide for such reservation.    

The salvo of protests perhaps came first simultaneously from two sources:  one from Jama'at-e-Islami Ameer of Kerala MI Abdul Azeez in a speech at a gathering in Kannur.   He took exception to the overzealous move of the chief minister and stated that reservation is a mechanism to bring to the mainstream of nation-building such communities as have been left behind due to centuries of oppression or neglect. And in spite of reservation,  those communities are yet to move forward sufficiently to recover from the backwardness and attain legitimate proportionate representation. In fact it is when the clamour for greater percentage of reservation for them is relevant that the chief minister has come up with an effectively retrograde idea of reservation for the economically weaker segment of forward castes.

It is worthwhile to note that even though the poorer sections (of forward castes) will be benefited, that would again consolidate the total percentage of forward communities in services thereby taking away a tenth of the general quota that is open to all communities on merit.

The other voice of dissent on the CM's pronouncement came from the Ezhava community side, through a statement of  the Secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam. At a meeting of the Yogam at Ochira, he criticised the state government's position saying that it is a communal decision,  and those who preached against communalism were falling a prey to it. He added that he was against the chief minister's stance on reservation, and quotas should be open to any of the people suffering from some backwardness.   

However, between the lines Vellappally's pronouncement can be read as his customary opposition to the forward castes snatching a big slice of the cake of government service, and such communities getting a better share through the latest state government recommendation. His target has at times,  based on his varying political leanings, used to include communities like Muslims too who belong to the category of OBC's. Tradidionally the official SNDP position, and the general feeling among the rank and file of his community, has been against quotas based on financial backwardness,  as a principle against the very grain of reservation envisaged in Indian constitution.