'In the case of reservations, there is no exit'
- The Rediff Interview/Social scientist P Radhakrishnan
'In the case of reservations, there is no exit'
May 30, 2008
Dr P Radhakrishnan
Dr P Radhakrishnan, the well-known social scientist and professor at
the Madras Institute of Development Studies, is a specialist on issues
concerning backward classes and reservations, backward class politics,
caste system, untouchability, etc.
In this interview with Contributing Editor Shobha Warrier, he talks
about the need to remove the "creamy layer" as the Supreme Court said
in its recent judgment. According to him, a social churning and
uprising would take place in the days to come, like the ongoing
uprising by Gujjars in Rajasthan, when some groups continue taking all
the benefits of reservation.
In 2006 when I interviewed you, you said the issue of reservation was
in the safe hands as the Supreme Court had intervened. Do you call the
Supreme Court verdict removing the creamy layer from reservation, a
No, I don't call this a landmark judgment. I would say they have come
half way in the case of OBC reservation in education. The government
also has come half way in response to that.
Why do you say so?
We have not yet properly identified the OBCs. That is where the
dilemma is. Even the judiciary has not identified them. After the
Mandal Commission judgment, the first step taken by the Government of
India was to list all the castes and communities common to the states
and central list. The Centre already had a list which the Mandal
Commission had prepared which was in dispute for several years.
But more than 80 pc of the population in Tamil Nadu comes under the
OBC list. Do they come in the central list also?
Eighty-six pc (in Tamil Nadu). But not all these communities are under
the central list.
Reservation for central services started only in 1993 after the Mandal
Commission report. Each state was supposed to appoint a permanent
commission to look at the inclusion and exclusion of communities. But
most states are interested in placating the population.
At that time, (former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister) Jayalalitha managed
to have 69 pc reservation for 86 pc of the population without
excluding the creamy layer either in education or employment through
an Act passed in 1994. (Former Prime Minister) P V Narasimha Rao
managed to get the Tamil Nadu Act in the 9th schedule. Once something
goes into the 9th schedule, the judiciary's role is very restricted.
Two days after this, when the Karnataka government wanted to have
70-80 pc reservation, the same judiciary asked them to stall it as the
judiciary had already laid down the criteria and reservation should
not exceed 50 pc. But in Tamil Nadu, the judiciary could not do
anything. Tamil Nadu could not have a special act which is not there
in other states.
Is that the reason why you say the work is half done by the judiciary?
This is not the only reason. There is more to it. Reservation politics
in Kerala [Images] was stranger than fiction all along. Kerala did not
follow the directive of the Supreme Court to eliminate the creamy
layer; instead it passed a bill in the assembly that there was no
creamy layer in Kerala.
Did Tamil Nadu also say the same thing?
No, they are opposed to the elimination of creamy layer while Kerala
went to the other extreme saying there was no creamy layer in the state.
After 15 years, it was in December 2007 that a decision was taken on
the creamy layer by the Supreme Court.
Though the Supreme Court verdict now talks about the central
reservation issue, do you feel it will have an implication in states
Yes, it will have an implication in all the states.
Directly or indirectly?
Directly. But most of the states have taken the directive in a cynical
Does that mean according to the new judgment, the creamy layer has to
be excluded in the states too?
Yes, but based on the state reservation list, whether it is in
education or employment. The verdict says that the quota should not
exceed 50 pc and creamy layer should be excluded. Both are mandatory
but most of the states have taken this very cynically. States look at
other states and decide.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi says the very concept of
creamy layer is not acceptable, Kerala said 15 years ago that there
was no creamy layer there. That gives rise to another question. Who
has benefitted from the reservation in the last several decades?
That is where we have to understand the meaning of "creamy layer". You
don't see this usage anywhere else. The judiciary, for convenience,
used this term. Very often, politicians don't understand what creamy
layer is. But Karunanidhi understands it very well.
But is the term not self-explanatory?
Yes, it is self-explanatory. By creamy layer, the judiciary does not
look at any individual caste group. There is a large group of socially
and educationally backward classes which contains around 200-300 caste
groups. So, the judiciary is talking about the cream that is there on
top of this large group. After they claim the benefits of reservation,
it is not the caste that is important but the individual.
But the judiciary is not talking about caste groups but individuals in
a caste group.
In the case of identifying the creamy layer in a group, take for
example, if I had taken the benefits of reservation, all I have to do
is give a declaration whether I am affluent or not.
The Justice Prasad committee constituted to prepare the criteria to
identify the creamy layer for OBCs had laid down six categories.
Then why is there this ambiguity about identifying the creamy layer if
it has been properly classified? Is it very difficult to remove the cream?
It is difficult. Multiple tests have to be applied to eliminate but
they don't use it. They use only the income test which is the last in
the list and it was fixed in 1993. They have made it so simplistic.
Even the IITs also use only the income category. And students are
asked to bring a certificate stating that they don't belong to the
creamy layer. And it is very easy to manipulate income. By simplifying
the whole exercise and sticking only to income, we have manipulated
the whole thing.
If a group of people continue to reap the benefits of reservation,
won't those lag behind revolt?
That has started happening. The lowest categories in the SC/ST
categories in many states have started agitating for special status.
You see the violent agitation of Gujjars in Rajasthan.
Do we see those who have benefitted agitating against the
beneficiaries of the same caste?
You will not see a group from the same caste agitating because we
still live in a caste society. Caste patriotism is still there in
Indian society. Unless there is a split, it will not happen in a
If we look at many politicians from the backward community, they are
still taking the benefits of reservation. How can we call the son of a
We are not saying they are backward. They are saying they are
backward. They also won't call themselves backward other than taking
the benefits of reservation.
Sixty years after independence, is it not high time to assess India's
It is not that the government has not done it, it has done it.
But how do you make an assessment? We don't have a baseline. And
states are not willing to do it. It has to be a huge sociological
The judiciary wants to assess and remove the creamy layer as a group
of people is blocking the way of others. In the case of reservation,
there is only an entry; there is no exit now!
The forum Youth For Equality is a dissatisfied lot...
One of the biggest contributions of Arjun Singh [Images] is the birth
of the Youth For Equality. Yes, they are dissatisfied for various reasons.
If you look at India, 50 pcof the population are below the age of 25.
Youngsters are innocent and they have no caste or religion or
community. That is what I see in Youth For Equality also. It started
off as a movement and continues as a movement. What YRF works for is
against the manipulative politicians.
But for the protest by YRF, the prime minister would not have
constituted the committee headed by Veerappa Moily.
Is it good for the country if 50 pc of the population is discontented?
Obviously 50 pc of the population is discontented. The frustration of
the youth at this level may come out in different forms. You have to
go to villages to see the real discontent.
I will give you the example of an institution in Tamil Nadu. Generally
universities do have only 20-30 seats at the post graduate level. Out
of 30, 20 seats are reserved under the 69 pc category. Out of the 10,
there is reservation for the physically challenged. So, the general
category gets only 3 or 4 seats. Obviously there is frustration. They
start drifting, all because of state inaction. A misguided State is
misguiding the youth.
If you want to know the discontented youth of India, you have to only
look at the Maoist, Naxalite movements. The attitude of the State is,
crush the movement. I would say 'no' to this. They are our children. I
wouldn't equate Naxalism or Maoism in India with terrorism. When the
State is mismanaging things and making life miserable for millions,
discontent will appear in different forms. It will lead to chaos. You
cannot have a Mahatma Gandhi [Images] all the time.
I would say, you address their problems instead of shooting at them.
Photo: Sreeram Selvara