BJP Beware! Opposition Is Throwing The Private Sector Reservation Gauntlet

by S Murlidharan - Feb 12, 2016 06:03 PM +05:30 IST
BJP Beware! Opposition Is Throwing The Private Sector Reservation Gauntlet

The BJP would be caught in a tricky situation if the reservations in private sector issue heats up. Here is an idea to handle such a situation.

On the evening of February 9, 2016, television channels were agog with news of the opposition throwing the gauntlet at the ruling BJP – ushering in reservation in the private sector – following the recommendation to the government by the National Commission for backward classes that 27% OBC reservation must also be extended to the private sector. Employment opportunities are drying up in the government sector and hence we have to prise open the private sector, is the refrain of the opposition led by JD(U). Unless the backward castes get to share the private sector prosperity, there would be no equality in the country, their apologists aver with a straight face.

The BJP cannot treat the challenge lightly because it could well be Mohan Bhagwat redux otherwise. In the run up to the Bihar Assembly elections, a few months ago, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, spoke with gay abandon the truth – the benefits of reservation are not percolating to the deserving and hence the policy needs tweaking – and its political offspring, the BJP paid a heavy price, with the Mahagatbandhan going to town twisting Bhagwat’s words out of context. 

There is a sense of déjà vu so soon. The opposition is again trying the same ploy. Reservation in the private sector is not even remotely contemplated by Article 16 of the Indian Constitution. It is envisaged only for government jobs. Of course, the opposition’s demand can be met with a Constitutional Amendment. But should the BJP rise to the bait? If it does, it might reap rich political dividends in the short run, to be sure, but the country would be in turmoil with imminent prospects of Mandal-type violent agitation, more than three decades ago, erupting with greater fury. OBCs would clamor for a share of the spoils, followed by religious minorities.

What would be damaged the most, however, is the economy. In the UPA II, there was a flight of capital from India with industrialists preferring to set shop abroad rather than in India resulting in outward foreign investments outdoing domestic FDI. Should there be reservations in the private sector, it would be the turn of talent to flee abroad with greater vigor. It would then be futile to bemoan brain drain. Abid Hussein, the former Planning Commission member and Indian ambassador to the USA long ago remarked tongue firmly in cheek – it is better to have brain drain rather than brain in the drain. 

To be sure, talent is not the forward caste preserve; there are bright and brilliant persons in the socially backward segments of the society for whom reservation in the government jobs has been on for the last more than six decades. Let there be free education for them right through or education loan on preferential terms but merit should for God’s sake not be ousted.

The Dalit spokespersons aver that in 2004 some 280 companies swore by affirmative action but have failed to live up to their promise. May be, may not be. It is tough to ascertain if positive discrimination has indeed been practiced. For, subjectivity is ingrained in it. It is for the corporate conscience to ponder whether it indeed followed affirmative action honestly. But one can never say. 

The BJP must address this issue with the sensitivity it deserves. It would be opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box if it even remotely suggests that it is for extending reservations to the private sector jobs. At the same time, it cannot be seen not taking up the opposition gauntlet. A ticklish situation indeed.

There is a way out though – CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the latest fad or claptrap, with the Companies Act, 2013 mandating 2% of profits to be spent in discharge of CSR by specified companies. Schedule 7 thereto lists a number of activities that pass muster. The BJP government must add a new item that specifically and explicitly says that reservation or affirmative action would also make the grade.  Training, mentoring and salary expenses attributable to the backward castes thus recruited then can be shown as being spent for a noble and altruistic cause. Critics may say this is trickery because it amounts to making virtue of necessity. But if this has been done by sacrificing merit to include the backwards in the mainstream, it is indeed an altruistic CSR spend. 

Sometimes tokenism comes to one’s rescue. CSR indeed could be one for the BJP. A single seat on the Board of Directors of companies for women falls in the same genre. But women, by and large, want to make it on their own steam often by breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. Our brothers and sisters from the socially backward strata would do well to discard the crutch of reservation in the private sector and instead walk into companies and climb the corporate ladder on their own steam. Be that as it may, for the BJP, CSR could be the much needed sanjeevani to rise from the charge of backward class neglect. It would pass the smell test though it might not pass the substantive benefit test.

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