Madiga reservation movement exposes the schism within Dalits, and a Constitutional conundrum
Madiga reservation movement exposes the schism within Dalits, and a Constitutional conundrum

Madiga reservation movement exposes the schism within Dalits, and a Constitutional conundrum

Already, arguments by the Kapus, Patidars, Jats and Marathas to be included in the BC list are trying to undermine the reservation policy.

Ever since it was subsumed by the ‘larger political movement’ for a separate state of Telangana, the movement lead by Madigas for the subdivision of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) for the purpose of reservation in Andhra Pradesh (AP) seemed like it had been shelved, at least for the near future. But with the public meeting called Dharma Yuddam, by the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti (MRPS) lead by Manda Krishna Madiga, the movement seems determined to take the fight to the end. This is sure to unleash the kind of arguments raised by the upper castes against the implementation of the Mandal Commission report by the VP Singh government in 1991. But these are strictly social in nature.

What is crucial to understand about the fortunes, or shall we say misfortunes, of this 23-year-old movement are the legal and political aspects; for the battle was first fought in the courts and now it will be fought in the parliament, initially, and then in the courts again, subsequently. 

There is no contention on the fact that there are inequalities among the Dalits. These have come up as unintended consequences during the practice of applying common reservation in education and employment given to all the subcastes in the Scheduled Castes list; or in other words, applying reservation to them as a single (homogenous) block. In fact, this was the conclusion of the Justice Ramachandra Raju Commission, appointed by the Government of AP. 

In its report in May 1997, the commission determined that a disproportionate distribution of reservation benefits was going in favour of the Malas and Adi Andhras, and that the Madigas and Rellis were not adequately represented either in public appointments or in educational institutions in proportion to their respective populations. It recommended categorising of the SCs into four groupings on a rational basis. This eventually led to the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Rationalisation of Reservation Act of 2000. 

When this was challenged in the AP High Court first, where a five-judge bench upheld the Act by a majority of four to one, and later in the Supreme Court in EV Chinnaiah vs State of AP, which, however, held the Act to be unconstitutional, nowhere did the courts in their arguments and counter arguments deny the findings of the Justice Raju report. In fact, the Supreme Court said, “It may not be necessary for us to delve deep into the question of the veracity of the Justice Raju Report.” Therefore, it was reduced to a purely legal question: is the Parliament constitutionally equipped to make these apportionments? And the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench’s judgement was a no. 

This judgement has been criticised for its poor understanding of the vision and spirit of the Constitution; not to forget its syllogistic conundrums. The poverty in the argument that stark social inequality has been identified but nothing can be done about it because the Constitution does not allow it is obvious for everyone to see. Everything said and done, given this judgement, the only way to correct this social inequality is through an amendment to the Constitution. So, what should this amendment be?

“The central and the state governments have the authority to apply the reservation or special provisions given to the SCs or STs for the purposes of achieving equality among the various subcastes in a rational manner.” -  Adding this statement as a third clause to Article 341 of the Constitution would be enough. This does not need a multiple member commission to decide. But that was precisely what the central government did with the Justice Usha Mehra Commission; a typically Fabian tactic often applied by the government. 

And this commission, too, came to the same conclusion as that of the Justice Raju Commission. In addition, it advised the Constitutional amendment route to overcome the roadblock that the Supreme Court had laid in the path of social justice. They made the undesirable suggestion that a third clause — that if the state assembly ‘unanimously’ passes a resolution in favour of apportionments and sends it to the Parliament then it can be taken forward — should be added to Article 341 of the Constitution. 

The catch here is the word ‘unanimously’, which means it will not go through even if one MLA does not vote in its favour. In fact, ever since the Constitution has been written, the courts have time and again opined that in cases where there are identified social inequalities it would suffice for the parliament, assembly or even local bodies to take steps to alleviate it and that making a new law for this purpose is not necessary; or in other words, why is a new legislation required to implement the already existing reservations in a rational and just manner?

The ruling and the opposition leaders present during the public meeting recently did promise that they would take up this matter in an earnest manner. And if this is not done, and is stalled again and again, it would have disastrous political fallouts. Until now the reasons for the inequalities, which the Madigas are fighting against, are simply unintended consequences of a historical and social nature. But if further delayed, for whatever reasons, they would take a political colour — that the benefitting castes among the SCs are conspiring against the Madigas and Rellis. In fact, some of the Madiga leaders have already labelled this a conspiracy of the neo-Brahmins among the SCs. 

And once this takes a political colour the old ghosts of Mandal would be unleashed again. Already the arguments by the Kapus, Patidars, Jats and Marathas to be included in the BC list are trying to undermine the reservation policy by laying claim to it. In this perilous atmosphere, it would be extremely dangerous to give a chance to the dominant caste to come out in the open again and courageously say: “Let’s get rid of reservation altogether because reservation only leads to further divisions.”

Note: These are the personal views of the author.

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