Wednesday, August 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Reopening the debate on quota

Reopening the debate on quota
Shashi shekhar

The ban on Aarakshan in three States offers an opportunity for the
Right to distinguish itself by asserting the constitutional morality
envisaged by BR Ambedkar. This is the moment for the Right to embrace
Ambedkarite constitutionalism as an effective antidote to both the
statist policies of Leftist ideologues and the dynastic politics of
the Left-leaning Congress.

It began as a game of political one-upmanship by a maverick
conscience-keeper but with the Uttar Pradesh Government taking the
lead in banning Prakash Jha's film Aarakshan, the proverbial
floodgates it seems have been opened. The ban on Aarakshan by Uttar
Pradesh has been followed by two other States at the time of writing
this column with several others likely to follow suit. It is anybody's
guess at this time if the movie will hit the theatres as per its
intended release schedule. But one thing is certain; the version that
will eventually release in India will see much politically correct
Six decades of caste-based quotas later both the quantum of quotas and
sensitivity over caste prejudices both remain a hot button political
issue. For a while during 2006, much thanks to Arjun Singh's
championship, the nation was once again witness to street protests
over caste-based reservations. The near total political consensus on
quotas, the long drawn court interventions and the political line
pursued by the UPA regime of universalising entitlements, those street
protests soon fizzled out. With the exception of Rajasthan which saw
fiery caste conflict over quotas, for the most part the last few years
have been bereft of any mass political movements on caste.
Political empowerment of specific caste groups in different States has
also perhaps contributed to this relative calm. In fact, the dominant
political paradigm of the past few election cycles at the State level
has been political consolidation based on a stable caste
configuration. Ms Mayawati's Sarvajan strategy, Mr Nitish Kumar's
micro-mandalisation and the latest attempt in Maharashtra to script a
grand coalition between the Shiv Sena, BJP and Mr Ramdas Athavale's
RPI are examples of this shift at the State level. But for the
occasional noise on quotas in the private sector there hasn't been
much clamour for new quotas.
The demand for communal sub-quotas within existing quotas continues to
have some traction, especially from Dalit-Christian groups. The rise
of the Dalit entrepreneur and the broader shift to a private sector
economy in most areas has also contributed to this relative calm.
The politics of universal entitlements and the politics of empowerment
have overtaken the politics over quotas. It is no accident that
corruption bred by the twin evils of crony capitalism and crony
socialism has become the dominant issue past many months for that
corruption is a by-product of these dominant political twins. It would
not be an exaggeration to conclude that the politics of quotas is on a
graph of diminishing returns. Hence the political brouhaha over
Aarakshan defies logic.
It is understandable that in the run-up to the high stakes battle in
Uttar Pradesh there is one-upmanship over who is perceived to be the
guardian of Dalit interests. This perhaps explains SC/ST Commission
chairman PL Punia's activism against the movie and the Uttar Pradesh
Government's pre-emptive strike to neutralise any potential political
dividends to the Congress. But the speed with which this has spread to
Punjab and far south Andhra Pradesh makes it all the more curious. Are
we back to the days of caste-based mobilisation and street protests or
is this political chain reaction an aberration?
Sensitivity to caste prejudice is a political holy cow much like
Gandhi's legacy. The political chain reaction over any perceived
slight on Gandhi or, for that matter, Ambedkar has now acquired a
predictable trajectory. The chain reaction over Aarakshan is a
manifestation of the same political correctness. Some may argue
against this from the pulpit of absolute freedom of expression and the
tyranny of all identity politics. But a more effective
counter-argument to this political correctness would be to hold the
protagonists to the Gandhi test or the Ambedkar test.
So what would BR Ambedkar have done if he were alive today in response
to the movie 'Aarakshan'?
Ambedkar's many interventions during the Constituent Assembly debates
offer the best guide to his thought process on contemporary issues.
Ambedkar also makes his views on freedoms quite clear in his States
and Minorities, calling for no restrictions on freedoms except in the
rarest of rare cases involving public order and morality. One can
perversely interpret "public order" and "morality" to justify the
politically opportunistic pre-emptive actions of the kind we are
witnessing today.
However, Ambedkar leaves no room for ambiguity in his 'Grammar of
Anarchy' speech in which he calls caste prejudices of all kinds
"anti-national" because they generate "jealousy and antipathy between
caste and caste". In the same speech he also makes clear his
preference for politics of empowerment with his clarion call to "make
room for realisation of aspirations".
It must be said that the Right has been timid and unimaginative in its
embrace of Ambedkar. It may pay lip service to him as an icon but has
offered little respect to his constitutionalism and unshakeable faith
in due process and rule of law. There is much in Ambedkar's
constitutionalism to support a coherent centre-right agenda, if close
attention is paid to his interventions in the Constituent Assembly
debates and to his writings.
The debate over the ban on Aarakshan is an opportunity for the Right
to distinguish itself by asserting the constitutional morality
envisaged by Ambedkar. It is time the Right look beyond political
Hindutva of the 1990s to embrace an Ambedkarite constitutionalism as
an effective antidote to both the statist policies of the Leftist
ideologues and to the dynastic politics of the Left-leaning Congress.
Source: The Pioneer


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