Now both the Congress and the BJP are competing for forward caste votes by seeking reservation for the poor among them. This makes the Mandal formula a farce. The Mandal Report itself was inconsistent. According to it, Banias and Yadavs are backward in Bihar but forward in Delhi. Then why use caste? Electoral considerations inspired the entire movement of caste-based reservations.
Except for the Dalits. They are victims of untouchability, with no parallel in the world. Regardless of economic status, Dalits required affirmative action. Kanshi Ram did them a disservice by lumping the OBCs with them. The backwardness of OBCs arises from poverty, not from untouchability.
The cult heroes of reservation often felt unsure. When Ram Manohar Lohia propagated reservation, rural society was immobile. It was easy to identify caste with class. Nevertheless, Lohia was troubled. Once obc applicants for an electoral seat approached him when I was present. After they left, Lohia wryly said: "They queue up for tickets, never for going to jail!"
Charan Singh used caste for electoral strategy, and class for ideology. He differed from the communists, focussing on the rural-urban divide instead of the labour-capitalist divide. Ultimately, electoral desperation led him to accept the Mandal formula before the 1979-80 poll. He lost. Afterwards, he wanted to discard the formula. "It'll divide society," he told the working committee. But Madhu Limaye prevailed on him to retain the policy.
V.P. Singh, out of power, once requested me to arrange a private meeting with Kanshi Ram. During the conversation, he turned to me and remarked, "I suppose you are against reservations." I replied: "When you were Indira Gandhi's loyalist, I supported Lohia!" Kanshi Ram realised that V.P. Singh made that remark to ingratiate himself. "He wants to use me to become PM again!", he later told me laughing.
Political empowerment has not helped the economic condition of backward castes. It's created vote-banks for their representatives who exult in the prevailing corrupt, exploitative system. Experience tells us that obc reservations, unlike Dalit reservations, have been counterproductive. The Dalits deserve caste-based reservation because of untouchability. For the rest, there are only two castes: the rich and the poor. Affirmative action on that basis could polarise society. But it won't dismember it.
Forward and poor
Or backward and rich,
Ridicule is sure,
Never mind you're which!