Thoughts on Republic Day: Time to move beyond ‘coalition of castes’ 

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Constitution of India, is one of the greatest attributes of our country which truly sets it apart from other nations, who attained their independence, like we did, during the post World War II period.

As one studies our Constitution especially in these “seditious” “anti-national” and intolerant times, you can only wonder at the sagacity, foresight and wisdom of our Constitutional fathers.  They have given us a grundnorm that has acted as a glue to keep this country together, acting an effective centripetal counterweight to the fissiparous forces.

But as the topic of today’s article mandates — is there one thing i would like to change in the Constitution? — there are several. But single most change that I would personally prefer to see — is to take the Constitution back to its original 1950 vintage and do away with the various Constitutional amendments that have wreaked havoc with the original purpose and intendment of Article 15 and 16.

Article 15 as it originally stood, prohibited any discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 16 provided equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Absolutely nothing wrong with these desirable ideals.

But our Constitutional fathers underestimated the ingenuity, borne out of their electoral compulsions, of our future legislators. Several Successive Constitutional amendments have Article 15 and 16 virtually unrecognizable from its original form and intent. The notification of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes as advised by the Mandal Commission in the 1990s was challenged before a nine-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney’s case [(1992) 6 SCC 273], which lost a golden opportunity to firmly strike down this augmentation of reservations in government educational institutions and public employment. The nine wise men thought they could contain this malady by prescribing the ‘creamy layer’, ‘50% cap’ doctrines.

But successive rapid constitutional amendments have virtually nullified these safeguards. Today, there are reservation norms and quotas, not merely at the entry level in public employment but also in promotions, seniority, backlogs and retrospective applications. The working culture of government departments, mediocre at the best of times, has been further ravaged by sharp internal schisms amongst its employees, with regards to recruitment and promotional avenues between the reserved and non-reserved/general categories employees. An unimaginably large amount of time is spent in resolving the inter-se recruitment and promotional disputes between members of the same service, department, cadre and organisation.

The clamour of more and more communities in recent years, many of whom have been dominant communities of their respective regions, for centuries, to be included in the list of “reserved categories” is proof, if one was ever needed, as to how reservations has played havoc with our country’s social fabric. It has undone the fruits of more than a century of seminal social reforms by Gandhiji, Ambedkar, Phule and Swami Vivekanand. It has brought “caste” back into the mainstream of our national consciousness. We don’t “cast our vote”, we “vote our caste”. Our elections have been reduced to mere caste arithmetic, a “coalition of castes”.

This is one area where I wish there was urgent and rapid change. But are we Indians ready and willing for this change?

The Leaflet