Sunday, April 01, 2007

Long Live Vote Bank Politics!: A Polemics

The Supreme Court’s interim judgment in the Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India and Ors. granting a stay on the OBC reservations in Central Educational Institutions requires a careful study and I intend to do it in the coming days. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to reading what my colleagues on the blog would say, after they read it, and reserve my comments till then. However, certain statements made in the petitions challenging the Act are disturbing. They have said that the OBC reservations –as they exist now without a valid “data base” - would further exacerbate the caste divisions in the society, and that the political class is perpetuating it for the sake of vote-bank politics.

A partial stay of the Act by the two-Judge Bench on the basis of this petition, therefore, is bound to cause concern. The Arijit Pasayat-Lokeshwar Singh Panta Bench which gave the interim partial stay has unwittingly contributed to the general distrust or cynicism of the political class by the citizens. This has ominous portents for the democracy. The immediate impact could be seen in the heckling of the human resource development minister Arjun Singh by anti-reservationists at the JNU.
It is indeed debatable whether reservations widen caste divisions. That apart, what exactly is “vote-bank politics,” that has acquired a pejorative meaning all these years? Is it cultivating a group or class of voters, and appeasing them, so that that class votes enbloc to a political party which has seemingly benefited them? Is there any evidence of voters of a caste voting together to a party because it is perceived to have extended quota to them?
Since all parties endorse the quota policy, the perception that one party stands to gain more from the policy than the others is not at all convincing. Look at the Central Educational Institutions Act 2006 , section 6 of which has been stayed by the Court. It was passed unanimously by all the parties in Parliament. The Government brought forward such a Bill, because all parties had urged it to bring forward such a Bill. Thus neither the Government or its allies nor the Opposition could claim credit for the Act, and translate them in terms of votes.
So, the Supreme Court -which prima facie finds substance in petitioners' claim -must be really livid at the way all parties equally eye the vote-bank represented by the beneficiaries of the Act.
Is it wrong in a democracy to woo those sections of the population perceived to be downtrodden, and historically discriminated? Is it wrong to devise Government’s policies, and draft laws to ameliorate the lives of these sections – even if they vote different parties, on the basis of their perceived degree of commitment to their welfare? Looked at from this sense, does not vote-bank politics promote the accountability of the political class, that it is always on tenterhooks, as to their commitment or the perceived commitment to the welfare of the underprivileged. So next time, when anyone blames the political class for its vote-bank politics, it should take it as a compliment, rather than as an affront.

But the underlying signals from the Bench, are worrying. People’s confidence in the efficacy of institutions other than the Judiciary, could be shaken. This universal cynicism and the complete distrust of the legislature and the people’s representatives might become a norm, following the Judgment, and this could lead to all-round defiance and lawlessness, leading to the Judiciary strangely coming to the defence of such law-breakers, (after all, how would you describe the anti-reservationists, who at the heat of their agitation, even used racist arguments against all reservations, including that of the SC and ST, and refused to recognize even Constitutional imperatives, and Judicial pronouncements) as opposed to the law-makers.
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