Is the Centre inching towards introducing reservation based on economic status? BJP-ruled states have already taken the first step. Ending caste and religion based reservation has been one of the major objectives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS), but it has stopped short of declaring the intention openly. RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat recently hinted about it and later retracted the comment after a huge controversy in the media. As many as three BJP states now have reservations aimed at weaker sections among the upper class. Since the BJP came to power, the party-ruled states have seen massive and violent demonstration over reservation. Groups like Patidards, led by a youth icon Hardik Patel, demanded reservation for the community or scrap the reservation system once and for all. The Gujarat government’s decision to allot 10 per cent reservation for economically backward class is a response to the Hardik-led agitation. The announcement came following BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan and Haryana already announced similar reservation.

There is an emerging voice in India against reservation. Even people from ST, SC and OBC categories now placed in higher positions and are economically well-off for generations have, although in private, started feeling the need to review the reservation. They know they can compete with the rest of the nation without the benefit of reservation. On the other hand, there is a huge section in the country who are economically backward but outside the ambit of current caste and religion based reservation. They belong to the General class. They are pained by the 49.5% Central jobs and education seat reserved for Scheduled Caste (15%), Scheduled Tribe (7.5%) and Other Backward Classes (27%). All the states have to follow this reservation pattern and they are free to go beyond. Tribal state like Meghalaya has as much as 80% reservation in jobs and education for the state’s three main indigenous tribes – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. There is very little chance for General candidates, even if poor, to get into government jobs.

The reservation on economic criteria is going to bring hope crores of Indian who cannot afford education and are not able to get government jobs. In fact, there is room for the government to go for economic reservation with the caste-based reservation. A poor tribal should have edge over a rich tribal of the same category within their reserved quota. As of now, the creamy layer is applicable only for OBC and not applicable on SC or ST. Introduced in 1993 with a ceiling of Rs 1 lakh in 1993, the annual income limit for OBCs to escape the creamy layer was revised up to Rs 6 lakh in 2013. However, last year, the National Commission for Backward Classes proposed Rs 15 lakh as the ceiling for OBC. Greater parity can be established among aggrieved classes with economic reservation keeping in view that a huge number of upper class people in the country are in dire straits.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 30, 2016)