Social Justice remains elusive 33 years after Mandal Movement

Mandal Day celebrations are being held across the country. The CRJD, the students’ wing of Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD, recently organised a public meeting in JNU to remember the legacy of the Mandal Movement and to discuss the challenges before the quest for justice. Ali Anwar, senior journalist, author and leader of the Pasmanda Movement and JNU Prof. Sharad Baviskar, whose Marathi autobiography Bhura has gone into multiple editions in a short period, touched several dimensions of the Mandal politics at the JNU meeting.

Ali Anwar — the author of Masawat ki Jung (2001), regarded as a pioneering work about Pasmanda Muslims — expressed concern about the crisis in Mandal politics. According to him, it is the result of “the internal division” of the leaders from the backward castes. As he boldly put it, “What has triggered the predicament (durgatifor the Mandal Movement? My honest reply to this is the internal division of back- ward caste leaders. It might have been caused by their ego clash or other factors. But the most unfortunate part is that these leaders have dragged and left the Mandal Movement into a dark cave (andheri gupha)”.

Almost 33 years ago, the Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented by the then V.P. Singh Government. Given the deep-rooted caste-based inequality in Indian society, making a law to address the social and educational backwardness of a large section of the population was not easy. “Even though I broke my leg, I was able to score a goal”. This is how V.P. Singh described the prevalent situation, much later during a meeting with Ali Anwar. Remember that when the Mandal Commission recommendation was implemented, the upper caste lobby rose against the V.P. Singh Government. The BJP withdrew support, triggering the downfall of the National Front Government.

No doubt the Mandal Movement is a watershed in modern Indian politics and the short-lived Government headed by V.P. Singh will always be remembered for its contribution. The social justice wave swept the country. The change was so radical that upper castes began to tremble. They expressed their anger by abusing and cursing Janata Dal leaders for empowering the lower castes. Lalu Prasad was their main tar- get. The erosion of their privileges made them furious. Conversely, there were celebrations in subaltern’s camp.

The most significant part of Mandal politics was its secular character. When OBC reservation was implemented, the backward castes of all religious groups were included. Perhaps for the first time at all India-level, the minority Muslim and Christian communities were brought into the ambit of reservation.

After Partition, in 1947, the Muslim minority was torn asunder and the post-In- dependence politics did not uplift their condition. The Muslim community was further silenced by calling them “the architect of Partition”. Muslim elites were so demoralized by the post-Independence regimes that they could not think beyond begging for cultural (patronage-based) rights. Mandal politics not only extended them reservation but also gave them a large share in political institutions. Contrary to the allegation by the upper caste scholars and journalists, it was both inclusive and secular.

The upper caste lobby is hesitant to accept that the Other Backward Classes (OBC) are the largest social group. The OBC is not the name of a caste but a group of over a thousand intermediary castes. The population of the OBCs is not exactly known as the caste census has not taken place since 1931. But it is estimated that the number of OBCs is above 50% and it is at least four times numerically bigger than that of privileged upper castes. Yet, the OBC castes remain marginalised till today and the upper castes monopolize all the resources.

The historic role of V. P. Singh’s Government lies in the fact that it, for the first time in Independent India, gave the backward castes 27% reservation in employment in central government offices and in public sector units. Much later, it was extended to educational sectors as well. However, the majority of the Mandal Commission recommendations related to economic, social and cultural equality, have not been fulfilled. This shows the weakening of the Mandal Movement.

Three decades after the recommendation of the Mandal Commission, it appears that political parties espousing social justice today face a huge crisis. This is what Ali Anwar referred to in his speech. The struggles for social justice have met several roadblocks.

Until today, even the 27% OBC reservation has not been fulfilled. Every day, the upper caste lobby puts a new hurdle in the path of OBC reservation, while the reservation for EWS for upper castes has been implemented within a few days. At class-one jobs and central universities, the backward castes are highly underrepresented. While the lack of authentic data is underscored as the reason to oppose OBC reservation, the union government, working under the influence of the upper-caste lobby, is unwilling to carry out a complete caste census. The caste census will demolish several myths and put an end to speculation and lies.

Most recent available figures show that the marginalised communities are yet to get their due share at educational centres. For example, while the OBC reservation is 27%, the proportion of OBC professors at 45 central universities is just 4%! At the associate professors and assistant professors levels, the bleak scenario does not change much as their share increases slightly to 6% and 14%, respectively. Apart from OBCs, Adivasis are highly under-represented. Among professors, the share of Adivasis is only 1.6%, while they are, on paper, given 7.5% reservation. Similarly, at associate and assistant professors levels, they are able to get a mere 2% and 4%representation, respectively. With 7% (professors level), 8% (assistant professors level), and 11% (associate professors level) share, Dalits are better off in the representatives stakes than Adivasis but these figures are far less than the 15% reservation available to them.

OBC reservations are religion-neutral. The provision paves the way for inter-religious solidarity. But the counter-modernity forces have employed all unfair means to sabotage the assertion from the below and tried to counter Mandal with Kamandal politics. The Ram Temple agitation was launched by L. K. Advani. But the worst part was the Sangh Parivar’s ability to nurture a large number of cadres who were OBC in social identity and Hindutva-wadi in their thinking and action. Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti (both belonging to the Lodhi caste) were the firebrand Hindutva OBC leaders during the Mandal Movement. Slowly, OBC leaders got divided because of their interests and a large number of them went to uphold the saffron flag. It is this downward fall that Ali Anwar is concerned about.

Social justice, contrary to all these corrupt practices, envisions reconstructing a society where the most marginalised castes are given equal rights. A large number of social justice leaders do not want to listen to the bitter truth. They are surrounded by sycophants. These leaders are clueless about their ideologies. If they themselves were unaware of the ideas of Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, how would they be expected to bring their name to every household in north India?

Instead of mythical heroes and religious figures upholding caste, these leaders should follow the tradition of Buddha, Kabir, Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar. Another failure of Mandal politics is its inability to work outside political domains. The social, educational, cultural and religious domains are still controlled by the forces opposed to social and economic equality.

Who will tell these leaders that social justice is also not just the fact and issue of reservation and token representation? Rather, it encompasses struggles within economic, social, and cultural domains.

Let’s speak the truth to the power on Mandal Day.

(The article was first published in News Trail)

 (Dr Abhay Kumar is an independent journalist. He has also taught political science at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University.) 



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