Political economy of caste based reservations..

Always a sensitive topic in India.

Ashwini Deshpande  and Rajesh Ramachandran  have a piece on the issue (full paper here):

Jats in Haryana have been demanding reservation under the ‘Other Backward Classes’ category. This column analyses socioeconomic data for three castes – Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat, and Marathas in Maharashtra – in relation to other broad caste groups in their respective states, in order to examine the validity of their claim to ‘backwardness’.
Overall, there is discontent among powerful farming communities due to the perception that real economic power lies in the hands of the big corporations, and the State, overtly or covertly, acts in their interest. These communities feel their power slipping away or eroding, in addition to feeling ill-prepared to shift towards urban, formal sector livelihood opportunities. Individuals or communities who feel strongly that the odds of economic success are stacked against them are more likely to feel deprived. Our analysis suggests that these perceptions are exactly that – feelings – not supported by evidence on the ground. The evidence, which is overwhelming, suggests that these communities are not the most marginalised in their respective states; additionally, these castes have consolidated their advantage over the marginalised groups, and narrowed gaps vis-à-vis the dominant groups, in their respective states between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
Having said this, widespread anxieties definitely need to be understood, and genuine discontent, even within dominant groups, needs to be addressed. Apropos demands for inclusion into the OBC category, we should note that given increasing privatisation, the base, that is, total jobs eligible for reservations, is already shrinking. In another exercise (Deshpande and Ramachandran 2016), we demonstrate how existing OBCs and SC-STs are increasingly lagging behind upper castes in a range of material indicators. In this context, extending quotas to relatively richer and powerful groups would amount to diluting the already small and shrinking entitlement for communities that are truly disadvantaged and discriminated against.

Our research contributes to the scholarly understanding of a relatively under-studied phenomenon – factors that prompt dominant or powerful groups to view themselves as marginalised or under threat, and ask for remedial measures. There are few international instances where the dominant group has become the beneficiary of special or remedial treatment – perhaps the most egregious instance being the apartheid system in South Africa. Other examples include Malaysia’s New Economic Policy of AA in favour of the politically dominant Malays, or reserving conscription into the Israel army for Jews and a few minorities, but excluding Arab citizens of Israel.

Commentaries analysing recent political events, such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s election as the President of the US, have emphasised anxieties of white men, a group that includes poor and working class, but would ordinarily be seen as dominant in comparison to women and racial, ethnic or sexual minorities. Our results suggest that socially powerful groups might be successful in articulating their demands and being heeded, though objectively other groups in society might be more deserving recipients of government assistance.

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