Reservation for General (EWS): An honest resolution or a smart act of getting by?

The Indian Reservation System goes through another shake-up as a new 10% quota is announced for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) in General category. Among an estimated 30% General population, the benefits of the latest amendment are aimed at those who earn less than ₹8, 00, 000 annually and own no significant property. The new law, whose implications have been debated extensively before, breezed past the two houses—Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha—of the Government of India and has now officially come into force as ‘Constitution (103 Amendment) Act, 2019’ after receiving the final go-ahead from the President.

Ever since the news broke out, the decision to create an EWS quota has received tremendous support from a multitude of people, although not everybody is a fan. In fact, the opposition has labelled the move as an “electoral compulsion” of the ruling party—which has seen its support weaken recently—ahead of the General Elections this year. Some opposition members have even gone as far as to call it “unconstitutional” and have highlighted that the new quota breaches the 50% reservation cap set by Supreme Court.

The adage goes “truth has many facets”; there are at least two here.

The ruling government’s swift handling of this agenda purports to be a genuine attempt at helping the economically weaker upper-caste, who strongly prefer the scale of financial status over that of caste for gauging reservation eligibility. This preference is based on the beliefs that the financial superiority of some of their lower caste counterparts essentially nulls the “backwardness”, and that the deserving candidates from General category are unjustly victimised for being born into a quota-deprived caste in a reservation-ridden country. Now that there is a quota that transcends the exclusivity of castes, they can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

However, there’s more to it than meets the eye. The income-ceiling defined for reservation benefits is quite accommodating, and thus a large population qualifies for the same. This renders the 10% quota insufficient and virtually insignificant.

Since the new act encompasses a spectrum of castes in the General bracket, the BJP government may have ingeniously dodged dishing out separate reservations for each caste and dealing with the trouble that comes with it. It may also be seen as an attempt to pacify (to an extent) a rebellious upper-caste generation that has grown up to view reservation as an evil impediment to their higher education and employment aspirations. Therefore, there is a prevailing feeling that the new law is designed to ultimately help the party more than the people.

It is being speculated that BJP’s sudden interest in uplifting the EWS of General category is a reaction to their series of thumping losses to INC in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh last December. The timing of the act—within a month after the electoral defeats—further adds weight to this speculation. The push for implementing such a popular bill so close to the General Elections is no coincidence—at least, that is what the opposition thinks.

The General have historically been the worst sufferers of the Indian Reservation System; so much that some of them get irked, simply, at the mention of the word “quota”. But now that they’re being offered the same “privilege” they have condemned and protested against for so long, it would be interesting to see how they respond.

Will they let the grudge go and be part of what they have eternally found unjust? Will they erase every memory of being anti-reservation, welcome the perks being offered, and ignore the repercussions of this reservation epidemic?

Or, will they rise above self-interest, see the bigger picture, reject the compromise the government is asking them to make, and keep fighting for uprooting reservation from India entirely? In this context, the matter is no longer just a political issue but one that lies at the intersection of ethics and fairness.

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