More than three years ago, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and one of the tallest intellectuals of India, Subramanian Swamy, on the question of ending caste-based reservation, had said, “Lekin hamari sarkaar aarakshan ko us star par pahuncha degi jahaan uska hona ya nahin hona barabar hoga (Our government will make the reservation so irrelevant that it wouldn’t matter whether the quota system exists or not).” In the last six and a half years, the Modi government has done exactly the same through a multi-pronged approach.
The first step to making caste-based reservation ineffective was the Modi government’s push for the private sector as the driver of the Indian economy. The private sector operates purely on the basis of merits and inefficiency, caste, class, gender, and other identities are never taken into consideration.
Modi government has not only restrained from any fresh investment in the public sector but is also privatising the inefficient public sector companies (which drain taxpayers’ money) aggressively. The public sector companies need to follow the governmental norms on SC, ST, and OBC reservation in employee hiring while the private sector has no such restrictions.
Even the public sector companies, which still hold strategic importance, have also found ways to dodge the caste-based reservation through contractual employee hiring. Through the hiring of contractual employees, the companies cut the employee cost as well as dodge reservation norms – thus improving the operating efficiency of the company.
Apart from the public sector companies (of the central government as well as state government), the next biggest avenue for the hiring of employees on the basis of the caste-based reservation is the government itself. But the Modi government is leading the way in dodging the caste-based reservation for the hiring of the best-suited employees through the ‘lateral entry scheme’.
Apart from infusing new blood in the notoriously lethargic bureaucracy, the lateral entry program of the Modi government has another far-reaching ramification in ending the caste-based reservation as it works outside the ambit of the reservation system.
An RTI inquiry has revealed that ‘reservation’ is not compulsory in lateral entry schemes as the vacancies are post-specific. “In a single cadre post, the reservation does not apply. Since each post to be filled under this scheme is a Single Post, reservation is not applicable,” said the Department of Personnel and Training in the RTI reply.
The Modi government now plans to fill 40 per cent of joint secretary-level posts through lateral entry. Notably, for these posts, the caste-based reservation will not be a constraint for choosing the best-suited candidates. The upper levels of bureaucracy design and implement the most important public policies. Billions of dollars of public money are invested in these schemes, therefore, inefficiency in these schemes would be a loss of public money.
A majority of the population living below the poverty line comes from the communities which have access to the reservation. The public welfare policies of the government primarily benefit these people and therefore only the ‘best talent’ should be chosen to implement the welfare policies to ensure maximum efficiency which has notoriously been lacking in the traditional IAS-dominated bureaucracy, and the Modi government is doing exactly that. The results are of picking up the best employees are already out because this government has a track record for efficient delivery of public goods in a country that was notorious for leakage.
The ‘social justice’ at the cost of inefficiency in public welfare, which is aimed at the marginalised sections of the society, could not be justified. Just like the armed forces, judiciary, and top executive posts like that of the Prime Minister and President of India have been kept outside the ambit of the reservation to attract the best talent, the upper echelons of bureaucracy should also be free to choose the finest professional talent and the Modi government is working in that direction.
Ten years down the line, the caste-based reservation will become ineffective, as announced by the Modi government in 2017, thanks to the multi-pronged approach of the Modi government.