Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, came to India in February 1959 and travelled throughout the country for nearly two months. Back home, he praised India for its affirmative action for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and exhorted the US government to follow India. Thus, India was a country worth emulating even for America so far as supporting the weaker sections was concerned. However, of late, this policy of reservation in government services and educational institutes has been politicalised in the shabbiest way imaginable, and there is a clamour by many castes for inclusion in the list of Other Backward Classes. Political parties support their demand for the sake of votes irrespective of its merit.
The demand by some caste or the other keeps convulsing the nation after regular intervals. Now Maharashtra is in the grip of a violent agitation by Marathas. Their demand is not new and they have agitated over it earlier also. Some other dominant castes like Patels, one of the richest castes, and even Rajputs in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana and Gurjars in Rajasthan have been agitating for getting the tag of backwardness and availing of the reservation facility.
Glamorous govt jobs
The question is, why is the government job so much coveted in the era of liberalisation and privatisation? In 2015, over 23 lakh candidates applied for 368 posts of peons advertised by the Uttar Pradesh government. Applicants included those with higher degrees like BTech, MSc and MCom, besides 255 youth with PhDs. Just a few days before it, an unprecedented 75,000 people applied for the 30 posts of peons in Chhattisgarh government’s Directorate of Economics and Statistics. The applicants included post-graduates and qualified engineers. The exam had to be cancelled as the department was unable to handle the high numbers. This raises two issues – how serious is the challenge of unemployment and how glamorous the government job is?
How did the government jobs become so glamorous? In 1001 CE, the world was roughly divided into three main blocks – China, India and the rest of the world, with each controlling around one-third of the world trade. India had 27 per cent of the world trade when the British rule formally began about 250 years ago. But then started the story of India’s plunder at the hands of the British, vividly described by Dadabhai Naoroji in his famous book ‘Poverty and Un-British Rule in India’. Naoroji described six factors which led to the drain of wealth from India to Britain. Among other reasons, he mentioned that India bore the burden of paying for Britain’s civil administrations and occupational army and added that opening the country to free trade was meant to exploit India by offering highly paid jobs to foreign personnel.
The expenditure on establishment and its bureaucracy was huge. In fact, the salary structure of the British officials was mindboggling. The Regulating Act of 1773, the first essay in the constitution-making that defined the partnership between the Crown and the East India Company, created a Supreme Council in Bengal which consisted of a Governor-General and four councillors. The salaries fixed for them were unbelievable; the Governor-General got 25,000 pounds per year while the councillors were paid 10,000 pounds each. The year 1861 saw the passing of the Indian Civil Service Act. It was enacted primarily to validate all appointments made in the civil service in India in disregard of the provisions of the Charter Act of 1793. Those days are known as the halcyon days for the Company’s servants, most of whom managed to make large fortunes. Governor-General Cornwallis tried to minimise corruption by securing adequate salaries for the Company’s employees. These posts had power and money, but Cornwallis set up a pernicious precedent that no Indians should be appointed to any high office. After arduous struggle, the bar was lifted and Indians were allowed to enter the coveted ICS. Satyendra Nath Tagore has the distinction of being the first Indian ICS officer who joined in 1864.
However, Indians were denied senior positions in the government, as it meant positions of power to rule, accompanied by handsome salaries, perks and privileges. The underhand lucre was another attractant. These jobs were so attractive that the British officials posted in India went to different universities in the UK, as recorded by Penderel Moon, and asked students to go and see what wonderful opportunities awaited them in India. In 1902, Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj of Kolhapur gave 50 per cent reservation in jobs for backward classes/communities in his state. This was the first Government Order in India providing for reservation for the welfare of depressed classes.
Lack of criteria
After Independence, the Constitution provided for reservation in jobs and political representation for SCs and STs, but provision was made for reservation in jobs for OBCs by the first constitutional amendment in 1951 itself by adding Article 15(4) to the Constitution. It has created the maximum problem, as there are no objective criteria to determine who are socially and educationally backward. Now, the philosophy behind the affirmative action in favour of those classes which were historically discriminated against has been consigned to flames. At present, reservation is being given not to the weak but to the strong who can bend the government. Jats were included in the central list of OBCs just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections even though the OBC Commission had recommended against it. Ultimately, the Supreme Court struck it down. Another problem is that there is no evaluation of the benefits accrued to different castes and whether any caste can be taken out of the list. No caste is taken out, only new castes are added. In 1960s, Lokur Committee recommended to take out cobblers from the list of SCs. It created such a hullabaloo in parliament that the report was shelved.
The only reason behind this scramble for government jobs is security, handsome salaries which were enhanced disproportionately to per capita income by fifth, sixth and seventh pay commissions. Besides, the culture of palm greasing that is so prevalent even though most of government employees do not have any scope for it. In private sectors, some top-notch employees may be getting astronomical pay packets, but the average salary structure is measly. The British also introduced a culture in which government jobs were considered white collar while labour did not get its dignity.