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Reinventing the Mandal Movement
kiran kumar gowd


Gowd Kiran Kumar

kiran kumar gowdOn August 7th, 1990, V.P. Singh tabled the Mandal Commission report in the Parliament which resulted in 27% reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBC). This decision was followed by the Kamandal or the anti-Mandal agitation in the country. Right wing forces, led by upper caste elite sections, participated in the Kamandal movement and tried to divert the issue to the Mandir Movement in the early 1990s. After 25 years, some of these caste groups are now demanding OBC status. The irony is that these politically, socially and economically strong caste groups severely criticised OBC reservation during the anti-Mandal agitation.

Several social scientists, intellectuals, politicians and others commented on the OBC reservation policy, in the wake of the recent protests by the Patels for OBC reservations. Out of the many issues involved, this write-up will concentrate on three personalities who responded critically to the OBC reservation policy issue at three different events. First, the speech made by the student-leader-turned-politician, Sitaram Yehury in our University (University of Hyderabad), asking for reservations based on economic status. Second, an interview given to Catch News (the same shared on his personal Facebook account) by social-activist-turned-politician Yogender Yadav, demanding provisions beyond reservations. And third, an article in The Hindu (‘A new edifice for reservations’) by bureaucrat-turned-politician, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, urging for a policy of no-reservations. I will try to look at the views expressed by these three personalities. All three opinions must be critically analysed, as they impact the task of social justice in the country.

Sitaram Yechury and Reservations based on Economic Status

In exposing the negative side of the so-called ‘Gujarat Model’, Com. Sitaram Yechury exposed his own party’s stand on ‘Caste and Reservations’. He clearly stated that the party supported Mandal Commission and demanded reservations for Economically Backward Classes. But the reality is that the CPI (M) never supported Mandal Commission outrightly. To quote the opinion of Jyoti Basu, the then CM of West Bengal appearing before Mandal Commission:

‘caste was a legacy of the feudal system and viewing the social scene from the casteist angle was no longer relevant to West Bengal'(for more information please refer to India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India by Christophe Jaffrelot).

In fact, Bhogendra Jha and Somnath Chatterjee, veteran leaders of the CPI and CPI (M) respectively, were opposed to the Mandal report. Left student forces contested University elections with the slogan ‘No Mandal and No Kamandal’.

politburo purity

Further, the communists in India were never at the forefront of the cause of caste based reservations, instead they have stood totally in support of so-called class based reservations. Reservations in India are based on the concept of ‘graded inequality’ as clearly defined by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Graded inequality in India is based on social inequality and not merely economic inequality. Reservations for Economically Backward Classes (EBC) cannot be included in the 27% of OBC reservations, as they will impact non-creamy layer OBCs. Moreover, it was really funny to hear Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the CPI (M), “we don’t believe in caste, thus there are no Dalits in politburo”, in a response to a question from a student at a talk organized at University of Hyderabad, on 27th August, 2015. Then why are the state cadre of CPI-M actively involved in the agitation for caste-based reservations in the private sector and for BC Sub-Plan? There should be some clarity on the question of ‘Caste’ among the Communists.

Yogendra Yadav: beyond reservations

In an interview given to Catch News, Yogendra Yadav shared his views on the Mandal Commission. Though the interview provided wider insights about the Mandal Commission and the politics behind it, I have certain reservations about the interview.

It will be a difficult and complex process to assess individuals according to the deprivation matrix (developed by Satish Deshpande and Yogendra Yadav). We cannot think beyond reservations but any provision for affirmative action must be parallel to reservation. Reservations in higher educational institutions and employment gave an opportunity to the OBCs, who were historically neglected and even today 27% of reservations are not properly filled by respective authorities. How many OBC students were there in Central Educational Institutions and Group A&B services up to 2000? But as he said, we need to explore the Mandal Commission Report and search for more viable and sustainable options for social justice. Instead of focusing on ‘anti-Reservation’ or ‘no-reservation’ views, he could have elaborated further on Mandal Commission.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan and Anti-Reservation

This article once again proved that Dr. JP is not an organic intellectual. First of all, the Patels’ demand for reservation should not be understood as a debate for or against reservations but must be considered as a rising phenomenon that illustrates how socially and economically dominant groups want to destabilize the wider concept of ‘Social Justice’ and ‘equality’. Social justice must prevail over such ideas of ‘equality’. The process of social transformation has not happened in India till date.

Thousands of years of discrimination will not be wiped out by a few decades of reservations. Let us build our argument based on quantitative data. There is no evidence that proves reservations affects our efficiency and effectiveness badly. My sincere request to Dr. JP is to read “Annihilation of Caste” by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (a famous book but never read by the so-called liberal, anti-reservations, traditional intellectuals) once again to understand the Indian Caste System and demand for Social Justice before aiming for some utopian ‘all equal’ concept in India.

My main argument is that caste in India is still relevant and it has now transformed into newer forms. The means through which we can achieve Social Justice are unique to India. Reservations will disappear if we ‘Annihilate Caste’. So instead of debating reservations, we must debate the ‘Annihilation of Caste’ as propounded by Bharat Ratna Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. In this background, OBCs must unite for their rights and reinvent the Mandal movement with greater efforts.

In the Indian Constitution, due importance is given to the socially and educationally backward classes under Article 15(4) and 16(4). Also, the Constitution empowers the President of India to ‘investigate’ conditions of Backward Classes in the country under Article 340. Based on Article 340, two commissions were appointed. First, the Backward Classes Commission was formed under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar in 1956 and the second Commission was headed by B.P. Mandal in 1979. Though the Government rejected the Kaka Kalelkar commission report, it partially accepted the Mandal Report.

The Government took nearly thirteen years (1993) after the Mandal report to implement OBC reservations in the Central Government employment and twenty six years (2006) to implement it in higher educational institutions. Despite Backward Classes as a category constituting more than half of the population, it remains the most neglected one till date. They face social, economic, political challenges and oppression. To effectively address these challenges, the Government must provide Constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), a long due panacea for OBC problems.

Demand for Constitutional Status to NCBC

In Indira Sawhney & Ors. Vs. Union of India and Ors (1992) case, the Supreme Court of India directed the Government of India to constitute a permanent body for the systemic analysis of inclusion and exclusion in the OBC list. Based on this direction, in 1993, the Government of India enacted the National Commission for Backward Classes Act and the commission became a permanent statutory body. The functions of the commission were stated in section 9 of the Act, that states, “The Commission shall examine requests for inclusion of any class of citizens as a backward class in the lists and hear complaints of over-inclusion or under-inclusion of any backward class in such lists and tender such advice to the Central Government as it deems appropriate and the advice of the Commission shall ordinarily be binding upon the Central Government.”

Previous governments underestimated the powers of the NCBC and included certain politically and numerically powerful castes in the OBC list without referring the issue to NCBC. Though the Supreme Court of India quashed the inclusion notification of Jats in the OBCs, it raises the question of the powers of the NCBC. NCBC’s powers and functions are limited as it is not a Constitutional body. There are demands across the country for the granting of Constitutional status to the NCBC.

Constitutional status will provide an independent mechanism to the commission and enable it to discharge its duties more effectively. The powers and functions of the NCBC must be expanded on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. It should include – analysing and monitoring matters related to the various safeguards to Backward Classes that were enshrined in the Constitution, to make suggestions to the Central and State Governments on the socio-economic development of the Other Backward Classes and to enquire into specific complaints related to the deprivation of rights and safeguards to the OBCs. Quasi-judicial powers must be provided to the NCBC for proper functioning.

In order to take effective decisions, both the government and the Commission must have enough statistical basis to design proper affirmative action and public policy for the OBCs. The recent Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) provides proper information about the present social and economic status of depressed sections of the country.

Demand for the release of Caste Census

In post-independence India, for the first time in 2011, the Government of India undertook the herculean job of conducting a Caste Census. The last Caste Census was conducted in 1931, which is still the basis for deciding on various policies for oppressed castes and tribes of the country.  

In order to determine the backwardness of castes as per the Indian Constitution, it is essential to collect the data required for determining socially and educationally backward classes as enshrined in Article 15, and the data relating to the representation of castes in the services under the Article 16. The figure of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC), from the Mandal Commission Report, was based on the argument that reservations must not exceed the ceiling limits (no more than 50% numerical quotas for reservation). The reason behind this is the lack of empirical data on social, economic and educational backwardness. 

On the other hand, for political gains, the ruling classes have sought to include numerically strong and economically viable castes like Jats in northern India, Marathas from Maharastra, and others in OBC lists and there is an ongoing attempt to include several other dominant castes -apart from Jats and Marathas – in the list. For example, Patels in Gujarat and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. The space of 27% reservations for OBCs is now compressed with other dominant castes, without any proper statistical understanding of their socio-economic and educational profile.

Even as the Supreme Court has repeatedly called for a scientific database of backward castes, a section of intelligentsia has mounted a criticism on caste enumeration, terming it a ‘monumental travesty’ and ‘the biggest blow to emancipation project’. The Caste Census is a source of macro-information for designing public policy. Besides this, caste based enumeration can provide a statistical plank from which oppressed sections can voice demands for social justice – and it is exactly this that the ruling classes are scared of. One cannot build a nation by neglecting more than half of its population – worse, concealing empirical information about their socio-economic standing. It is high time to rectify the historical mistake of not enumerating castes by releasing caste census data.

Reservations in the country must spread deeply and widely within the social groups. The main objectives of the reservations, apart from bringing equality among various sections of the society, are to help in mobilizing lower income backward castes towards the middle class vibrant groups. Apart from reservations, the Government should also concentrate on distribution of land, provision of financial resources, universal and quality primary and secondary education, and generation of employment opportunities, both in private and public sector. These actions should reflect in public policy and it is only then can we remove the differences among the castes and class groups.

Other Backward Classes (OBC) represent a numerically strong and conscious section of the country. If they are neglected, as they were in the past, it may not be tolerated and a revived Mandal Movement might in all possibility rise, to demand the rightful share of OBCs in the development process within the Constitutional framework.



Gowd Kiran Kumar is currently a research scholar at Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He has done done M.A.(Political Science) from University of Hyderabad, M.A. (Sociology) from IGNOU (Distance), PG Diploma in Human Rights from University of Hyderabad (Distance) and secured a UGC Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). His areas of interest are Public Policy, Governance and Human Rights.

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