The recent upsurge of Patels in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharshtra, Jats in the north, Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu, Kapus in Andhra Pradesh and several such intermediate social groups who claim to have been marginalised by the ruling dispensations is a phenomenon that needs to be put in proper perspective. Though some demands of the groups are aimed against Dalits and reservations, the internal spirit of the sporadic movements appears to be deep frustration of the above social classes with the present socio-economic and political process. Interestingly, most of them by and large come from middle classes and castes. Some of our commentators know that there is internal differentiation among the groups and a creamy layer of their own kith and kin are benefited by caste politics using their caste clout in the post-Mandal formations through contracts and nominated posts. Strangely, all the above mentioned groups were, in the past or the present, categorised as Other Backward Classes. Therefore, the victimhood felt by them is cleverly directed against Dalits or Muslims or some other vulnerable group.
These so-called fringe groups and the violence they carry out is found in states where most of the castes are included in the backward castes list. For instance, the highest number (261 castes) is included in Maharashtra and the second highest (180 castes) are from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh each. By statistical logic, the fury of the non-reserved castes should actually be postured against the OBCs, who are numerically strong, but it is instead being directed against Dalits or Muslims in the states. Something is amiss in our understanding of the socio-economic developments in the post-reform period. But we are not imprudent to believe that the policy makers were ignorant about the social implications of their economic policies. They knew pretty well that in a pluralistic country like India with several dichotomies, a shift in policy would result in multiple impacts. Therefore, they opened gates for upwardly mobile dominant castes to move on after getting subsidised higher education. Later, education and health were privatised and jobless growth, with weightless goods like IT and service sectors, were expanded, where the non-creamy layer OBCs (including Muslims) and Dalits did not have access. The groups got frustrated witnessing how the few Brahmin and Bania collectives in Gujarat, Mahrashtra and other places become trillionaires overnight with state support. Unfortunately, the media largely can’t catch this occurrence, or it may be wittingly ‘manufacturing consent’ against the marginalised.
The number of people who are benefited by reservations in the public sector, including central, state, local body and public sector, amounts to around 25 lakh Dalits and 15 lakh OBCs. The public sector jobs have declined from 1.95 crore in the 1990s to 1.70 crore in 2014, where SC reservations are 15 per cent and OBC reservations 27 per cent. It means that less than one per cent of 25 crore Dalits and a much less number of OBCs are benefited by job reservations. There is hardly any logic in saying that Dalits and reservation groups are the recipients of public resources except that a tiny vocal section is formed from among these people. They may turn out to be an eyesore for the privileged class as in future they might demand jobs in the private sector.
In the outbursts of the Patels, the Vanniyars or even the Marathas recently, no sustained detestation against the caste-based reservation is seen, something we observed during the time of the Mandal movement. However, they recur now and then. Why? There seems to be a primordial belief among the ruling castes that unless the lower classes are divided and in constant clash, they would not survive in power and amass wealth. The misuse of the PCR Act is only cited as an alibi to scrap it as very few of those who were involved in the gruesome lynching of Dalits were punished. The Dalits are now marginalised in the new economy and socially excluded from the public domain contrary to the expectations of policy makers. Why is it that Dalits alone are now increasingly targeted both by the fringe groups and others? One may say that it is a political ploy. But we cannot wish away the phenomenon that is almost like that of the Jasmine revolution in the Middle East, where some external agencies are alleged to have reinforced it. This needs to be studied and a solution found to nip it in the bud.
(K.S. Chalam is author of Caste-based Reservations and Human Development, Economic Reforms and Social Exclusion, Sage)