Reservation movements have a long history in India. It was Dr BR Ambedkar, who fought for reservations for the downtrodden in India. His philosophical and pragmatic ideology infused enthusiasm in leaders like Periyar Ramasamy, who launched agitations for reservations in Tamil Nadu. Ram Manohar Lohia and BP Mandal and many others drew inspiration from Ambedkar.
In accordance with Article 340 (under this it is obligatory for the government to promote the welfare of OBCs), the Kakasaheb Kalelkar Commission was constituted in 1953 to study the conditions of the Backward Classes when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. Its recommendations, submitted vide its report in 1955 was “too vague and wide to be of much practical value,” resulting in its being set aside. The issue of reservations was to be discussed in the light of 1932 Poona Pact, but this wasn’t done.
The Communal Award of 1932 proposed separate electorates for Sikhs, Muslims and the Depressed Classes. Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Award and fasted in protest against it. Ambedkar pacified Gandhi and both agreed on the reservation of electoral seats for the depressed in the legislature of the British Indian Government, which came to be known as Poona Pact.
The Communal Award, it is said, “took a step forward in perpetuating the communal cleavage between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities by prescribing separate electorates on the ground that the two major communities failed to come together. The Award provided separate constituencies for Muslims and non-Muslims and created religious animosity. However, the Communal Award led to the Poona Pact which recognised the reservations for SCs and STs.”
BP Mandal Commission
The Janata Party came to power in 1977. Leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia sought reservations for the Backward Classes. A commission, headed by BP Mandal, was constituted to look into the empowerment of Backward Classes. Though it submitted its recommendations on December 1, 1980, it was kept in abeyance since the government had changed.
In 1989, VP Singh became the Prime Minister and initiated efforts to provide reservations to Backward Classes based on the Mandal Commission’s recommendations. However, protests in favour of and against them broke out and there were appeals in courts. Meanwhile, the VP Singh-led government had to quit office. The Supreme Court in the famous Indra Sawhney case put the ceiling on reservations at not more than 50%.
Accessibility of Equality
The Constitution of India aims to provide ‘Equality of Status and Opportunity’ without any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth, and to promote the dignity of the individual in all respects.
Various articles, namely 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 29, 31B, 46, 337, 338, 339, 340, 341, 371D, etc, have been included in the Constitution for this purpose. As of now, there are 102 Constitutional Amendment Acts.
The 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2018, confers constitutional status to the BC Commissions.
The concept of equality, which is the ideal of a democratic system and an egalitarian society, is generally regarded as the contribution of the French Revolution in 1789. But it was Gautam Buddha, who enunciated this concept, which left a deep impact on Emperor Ashoka. Having established a vast empire, he implemented the principles of equality and equal opportunities in his administration.
Movements in South
The South saw many agitations for social reforms and reservations for BCs, SCs, STs and minorities. But the Constitution did not provide reservations to the Backward Classes. In Tamil Nadu, some movements by the Dravidar Kazhagam, led by Periyar EV Ramasamy Naicker, started.
In order to solve the problems and to provide reservations to Backward Classes, the First Constitutional Amendment was made in 1951. By this Amendment, Articles like 15, 19, 85, 87, 174, 341, 342, 372 and 376 were amended. Article 31(A), 31(B) and the Ninth Schedule were also added to the Constitution. All these provisions enabled welfare of these people.
Significance of Article 15(4)
Article 15(4) is very important for reservations for Backward Classes, and so we need to know its historical significance. This article was added to the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. The Constitution (Seventy-Sixth Amendment) Act, 1994, which inserted Article 257A amended the Ninth Schedule to give ample scope for reservations to Backward Classes after the Presidential assent to Tamil Nadu Act, 1993.
In fact, the issue of ‘reservations of seats in educational institutions and public services for the Backward Classes, Scheduled Classes and Scheduled Tribes’ has had a long history in Tamil Nadu, going back to the dawn of the 20th century.
Ramaswamy Periyar started the Self-Respect Movement for the abolition of caste system in the State. His philosophical influence led to the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, which saw the birth of Dravidian parties like the Justice Party, Dravidar Kazhagam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The basic tenet of all these parties was to provide maximum reservation to the BCs/SCs/STs.
The original Constitution had no provision for reservations for the Backward Classes. It was Madras State that first made a serious attempt to empower the Backward Classes by issuing a Communal GO, which made provisions for the admission of Backward Classes to medical and engineering colleges. However, it was challenged in the Supreme Court in the famous Champakam Dorai Rajan V The Union of India (1951) case. The Supreme Court struck down the GO and said it was against the provisions of Right to Equality.
There was thus a clash between the SC and the governments of those days. In order to resolve this problem, the then Union Government brought the First Constitutional Amendment in 1951. It added Clause 4 to Article 15 – which we term it as 15(4). The reason behind adding such a clause was to bring the concept of ‘Protective Discrimination’ and make efforts to empower the Backward Classes.
The Backward Classes
Since our Constitution hasn’t defined what constitutes backwardness, it has become difficult to know who the Backwards are and how to assess their backwardness in terms of social, educational and economic spheres. The Supreme Court, after its judgement in the Indra Sawhney case, forwarded certain suggestions and recommendations.
In accordance with them, the Government of India, through an Act — that also conferred statutory status — constituted the National Backward Commission and State Backward Class Commissions in 1993.
Since 1963, the Acts on Reservation for the Backward Classes have been facing various problems. The reservations of 1963 and 1964 were struck down by the High Courts and the Supreme Court. According to the judgements of the courts, caste alone could not be a criterion for the basis of reservation. This is because it would be against Articles 15 and 29(2) of the Constitution.
The process of reservations, which was stalled till 1970, resumed again with the appointment of BC Commissions headed by Justice Manohar Prasad and KS Ananta Raman. The Ananta Raman Commission recognised 92 castes as Backward Classes and recommended 30% reservation for them.
Moreover, following the judgements of the courts, the Mandal Commission recommended 27% reservations for the Backward Classes and the Central government brought an Act in this regard.
Despite the Sudras playing a critical role in the reconstruction of our nation after Independence, it is unfortunate that their role has not received any special recognition. Their contribution is lost within the bigger canvas of building a new India. Not only has no due recognition been given to their contribution in electronic and print media, many essays, books, literary works and commentaries have instead brought them disgrace through unfavourable portrayals.
The yeoman services of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Periyar Ramasamy, Narayanaguru, Dr BR Ambedkar, Bhagyareddy Varma, Ram Manohar Lohia, Ananta Raman Commission, BP Mandal Commission, Muralidhar Rao Commission and the BC Commissions of Centre and States for the welfare of the downtrodden communities need to be respected and recognised.
Ambedkar infused a philosophical outlook to this struggle, which played a catalytic role in enabling the welfare of the Backward Classes. Studying and analysing his philosophical perspectives are critical to understanding the struggles and aspirations of those left behind.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj needs to be highly regarded for implementing reservations in 1902, guided by the teachings of Phule. Periyar fought for reservations during the freedom struggle as well as after Independence in Tamil Nadu and succeeded in getting them through the First Constitutional Amendment Act. The contribution of Ram Manohar Lohia and BP Mandal in getting the OBCs their due also needs to be documented well in our history.
World’s Biggest Constitution
The architects of the Indian Constitution perused various Constitutions of the world and drafted an eclectic Constitution in accordance with needs and aspirations of the people of India. In doing so, they adopted some of the best features of other Constitutions.
For example, they took the idea of Fundamental Rights from the American Constitution and the idea of the Directive Principles from the Irish Constitution. They adopted the parliamentary system from the British.
In order to bring unity in diversity in a country like India that has various languages and cultures, they included many articles in the Constitution, making it the biggest Constitution in the world.
(The author is Chairman, Commission for Backward Classes, Telangana)