The Prakash Ambedkar interview: Legislation doesn’t change people. That’s why B.R. Ambedkar didn’t believe that reservation of constituencies or jobs for Dalits would change the way Indian society looked at its lower castes. He reluctantly agreed to reservation in the belief that it would be discontinued 10 years after the adoption of the Constitution. But half a century later, reservation remains an issue in India.
What if we had restricted reservations of constituencies just to a decade as Dr Ambedkar had envisaged?
Dalit representation in Indian politics would have been non-existent. The Dalits in most parts of the country are so scattered that they do not have a meaningful electoral strength. So, here, reservation of seats for Dalit candidates has served a purpose. Having said that, the cancellation of political reservation would have made no difference to the Dalit movement because Dalit politicians who have benefited from the reservation of constituencies have turned out to be puppets in the hands of parties like the Congress and the BJP. These parties exploit political reservation to increase their own seat count. The welfare of Dalits has been lost in political calculations. So if political reservations end today, it may not make a difference to the larger welfare of Dalits.
What if there was never any reservation in services and educational institutes?
It would have brought about a disaster. Job and educational reservations were very vital in the view of Dr Ambedkar. In fact, while he advocated a 10-year period for the reservation of constituencies, he wanted reservation in services and colleges to be permanent. If those reservations were not put in place, there would have been a People’s War Group in every Indian state. The oppressed classes would have never found a channel to come into the mainstream. What would have been denied to them, they would have taken by force. In fact, I foresee the future generations taking up violence if this madness of privatisation continues. Job opportunities for Dalits are shrinking because of privatisation. So ‘what-if-there-were-no-reservations-after-independence’ is close to becoming a reality. And the way the poor Dalit youths will respond will answer the question what would have happened if there were no reservations in free India.
What if reservation was for all the poor of India instead of Dalits?
The poor of India, assuming that it has been clearly defined, would have been a very large number. The struggle of the poor Dalits, poor because of the oppression they suffered for centuries, would have been lost. A diluted reservation is as good as having no reservation. And the youth might have made this point through violence.
What if the creamy layer in the Dalit community was left out of reservation?
It would have been impractical and unfair. It was using the benefits of reservation that many Dalits became what you call "creamy layer". So first they are benefited and then their children are penalised? And how would you define a well-off Dalit? Only he? His immediate family? His extended family? Who? It would have been impractical to make such discriminations within the community. It would have in a way distanced the affluent from the Dalit movement.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of the Babasaheb, was talking to Manu Joseph.
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