India Intelligence Report

   Quota Reservation Protests Intensifies


Undeterred by widespread protests against his retrograde suggestions on quota-based reservations in premier institutions and private sector, Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh dismissed criticisms and refused to review his proposals. 

He further suggested that it was time that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) gives a chance for its alliance partners to run the country. Viewed at the most direct attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yet, Arjun Singh seems to be suggesting a regime change as Congress will not allow the Communists to run the country as they have a much smaller voting base and public support. Besides, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party will not allow such a regime change. 

Analysts believe that just as former Prime Minister V.P. Singh shamelessly invoked the Mandal Report to ward off threat from his overtly avaricious deputy Devi Lal who coveted the top position, Arjun Singh is working in reverse format to upstage the upstanding Manmohan Singh. By naming the communists, he is overtly wooing their support, which may be a foregone and pre-negotiated deal and a subtle hint to the Prime Minister that he has their support.

Adding to this complex situation, Federal Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi said that the Government is planning on creating reservation quota for women. A previous effort died an unholy death when there was confusion whether this reservation should come out of previous quotas or a new quota be created for women. Politicians claim that women are not being given enough opportunities when every available piece of data says otherwise. India boasts the largest number of women scientists in the world, one of the highest numbers of managers in the world, and run companies on their own. Women occupy important positions in Administration, Ministers, Teachers, Lawyers, Doctors, Banks, and manufacturing sectors. The only two areas where women are treated a step lower is in politics and in the illiterate portions of the Hindi-belt. Colored, as they are how they see women, politicians seem to think that women are ill treated in the whole nation.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) reviewing complaints that Arjun Singh broke the model code of conduct during elections said that while they did not find conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, they did find circumstantial evidence against him. It said that Arjun Singh gave the impression that the Government was on the verge of instituting quota reservations with an eye to garner votes for his party and coalition. The sad irony is that his comments did not get votes for his party but for the communists and other caste-based parties in the coalition and the Congress was a net loser in the last State elections.

While Arjun Singh is playing out this drama, police brutalized students and doctors in New Delhi and Mumbai who were protesting reservation policies peacefully. Use of water cannons, canning of non-retreating and peaceful IIT alumni, and threats to disbar doctors who protest negative policies took the prestige of the Indian democracy a few notches down. As noted author Arundathi Roy commented wryly that politicians and police respect only violent protestors and peaceful and civilized protests are treated harshly. 

Such developments raise serious questions about the capacity of the Indian democracy to provide forums for educated, peaceful, and tax-paying citizens to protest bad policies and ideas of their political class. Given that their votes are meaningless in a caste-driven number game electoral system, how else will this constituency be heard?