This is written by Ayushi Dubey, of Institute of Law Nirma University. The article discusses the reservation debate between the drafters of the constitution that took place in the Constituent Assembly and brings out major arguments from the debate.
The Constituent Assembly in India, for the first time, met on 9 December 1946 and took three years to frame the world’s largest constitution- the Indian constitution. The members of the Assembly were indirectly elected by the members of the provincial assemblies that existed during the British Raj. The drafting of the constitution was not an easy task, it took months and years of debates and discussions to arrive at the final draft of the constitution and then the constitution was enacted on January 26, 1950.
Among all the debates that took place in the assembly, the debate on reservation was among the most prominent ones. When Britishers left India, the country was shattered into pieces and it was the need of the time to bring all the pieces together in order to run the country. When the assembly met for the framing of the Constitution, all classes of the society were addressed , be it be the upper-class Hindus or the lower caste. And since, the fact that class and caste discrimination are deeply rooted in India cannot be denied, policies such as reservation had to be included to achieve the principles of democracy.
Need for reservation
India is a vast country with different cultural and religious backgrounds. With a population of almost 134 crores, it becomes important to ensure the interests of all. And to safeguard the rights of the socially and educationally backward classes, to assimilate all the sections of the society into the national mainstream, the issue of reservation was raised by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the assembly.
There are certain classes who have not been given adequate opportunities in the past due to the rigid hierarchies and monopolistic governments of that time. But if a constitution is being framed for a democratic country then all the sections of the society should get represented and special provisions should be made for the upliftment of those at the bottom. They should be given their chance to overcome the difficulties that exist in their lives. And for this the government has to work on the principle of equity which means providing proportional equality. The protection of the minorities against the interest of the majority was one of the fundamental concerns behind the reservation policy. This led to a serious discussion in the assembly, followed by the conflicting interests of people.
Parameters of reservation
Soon after the motion for reservation of backward classes was passed, the discussion started, as to how and on what parameters will reservation be provided. Basically, the question was who would be the beneficiaries of the reservation and who all should be counted in the backward classes. Many members of the assembly put forward their views and opinions regarding the same.
The discussion started with giving reservation proportional to the population of a particular backward class. For example, if X state has 35% of depressed class population and Y state has 20% then, the reserved seats in the state of X would be more in number than the reserved seats in the state of Y. This policy helps in effective and equal representation of the depressed classes with regard to the population of the particular state. The major arguers of this policy were S Nagappa and Jaipal Singh, who were members of the depressed classes. They demanded representation in the cabinet as well.
Secondly, the constitution originally provided reservation for 10 years, but the members from the schedule caste put forward that the policy shall either renew after 10 years or the 10 year period clause shall abolish. In case, if
- There is no substantial progress.
- There is a need for more progress.
- There is no change in the situation of the depressed classes even after the 10 years of reservation.
Jaipal Singh also argued for the rights and dignity of the Adivasis. He said that Adivasis are the original inhabitants of the country, they have their own laws and they manage their areas better than the mainstream democracy. But he argued that they should be given their due recognition and for that they don’t require any special treatment but they want to be treated like every other Indian. He argued that Adivasis don’t need the safeguards that the objective resolution is talking about rather they need protection from the ministers.
Controversial issues in the debate
When people with different interests come together to discuss a common objective, conflicts can arise and there are chances that various issues would raise. Some of them might get resolved and some might not. But there would always be some issues which would create a lot of fuss and controversy, which would get the highest limelight and hence marked in history. Similarly, when the constituent assembly was dealing with the reservation policy, many controversial issues arose at that time.
One issue was raised when the members referred to the Poona Pact during the debate. H.J. Kandenkar reminded the assembly about the pact by stating its failure to achieve the goal by reservation. The Poona Pact provided for separate electorate for the depressed classes for their benefit but the result that came out was not the desired one. The classes were to have 28 seats (depressed class population was 25%) in the central province but got only 20 according to the pact. Kandenkar argued that this would count as injustice and hence reservation should be given proportional to the population.
Another major issue was raised when people that were against reservation made the point that the presence of Dr. Ambedkar in the assembly as the chairman of the drafting committee and the law minister, clearly points out that the nation has made progress already and reservation is not required. Ambedkar not only possessed symbolic but real authority. The contrasting opinion was that the appointment of Ambedkar on such high post and giving him the right to access his powers was just a political move by the Indian National Congress. In fact, Congress was using Ambedkar’s skills as a lawyer, for their benefit.
Major arguments of the debate
The constitutional assembly came up with a number of arguments while debating on the issue of reservation. The basic argument upon which the whole debate was based was that there are classes in the society which have not been given their share in the society. They are underprivileged because of the lack of opportunities. They have not been given their rights and due recognition in the society and therefore if the assembly is formed to create a constitution for the future, then, the depressed classes should be given adequate safeguards.
The Constitution provides equality for all and by equality we mean equity. If people have not started from the same point then they should not be given equal facilities to reach the destination. Obviously to achieve equality some special rights have to be given to those people who lag behind and hence the point of reservation was put forward.There are unfortunate countrymen who have not given ample opportunities to jobs, education, luxury life etc. and therefore special attempts should be made for them so that they can come at par with the rest of the nation.
Making policies is easy but one has to ensure whether the formulated policies are effective or would achieve the desired goal. A similar thing happened when the effectiveness of separate electorate was raised in the assembly. It was raised by a member from the assembly that the depressed classes or the Harijans are economic slaves. Even if you give them separate electorate powerful people with money can exploit them by buying them and then a Harijan leader would only be there for the sake of name and the people with power and money would run the government. Hence separate electorate was considered useless to safeguard the rights of Harijans and rather the point that economic help should be provided was raised.
Subsequent to the debate a report on minority rights was presented in the assembly by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. The report held that the minorities would get representation in legislature and reservation of seats according to their population. And, also they would also be eligible to contest for the general seats. The report was passed but some feared for the majority. P. S. Deshmukh feared that the majority would be left marginalised since the majority is quite unclear about their rights and in providing special safeguard to the minority, the majority is being overlooked.
The Result of the Debate
The rambunctious debate upon reservation, though has not concluded even yet in 2019, but the Constituent Assembly that time arrived at interim solutions and the motion was adopted. Dr. Ambedkar in his endnote discussed upon the following four major amendments that have been put forward by the various assembly members.
- The first amendment was suggested by Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava, the amendment talked about the representation of Anglo-Indians in the legislative assembly. Bhargava submitted that Anglo-Indians though small in number are advanced people and in place of reservation they were given the power of nomination. Therefore, it was proposed that this nomination clause should also have an end term of 10 years like other reservations given to Scheduled Castes and scheduled tribes. The situation in India after 10 years would be way more different than the current situation and providing reservation for unlimited period will end the very essence of reservation. This amendment was accepted by Dr. Ambedkar since a similar amendment was moved by Bhargava during the time of the debate on the minority rights reports as well and it was accepted at that time, therefore it was accepted this time as well on similar lines of reasoning.
- The second amendment in the discussion was the one that was put forward by Mr Naziruddin Ahmed regarding the ambiguity in the time period of ten years. He raised, if the government is in power but the ten years period is expired, whether the people on the reserved posts would have to leave their post or not. He raised that this article is ambiguous in nature since it is not clear that whether the time period starts after the draft of the constitution would be ready or after the first election. Dr. Ambedkar said that the same ambiguities have been cleared by another amendment that was moved by Mr Krishnamacharya and regarding the commencement of the ten years period Ambedkar said, it is yet to be decided.
- The third amendment in the discussion was the one that was put forward by Mr Monomohan Das and Mr Muniswami together, and it demanded that there shall be no expiration period of the reservation as per now. This amendment was rejected by Dr. Ambedkar since the expiration period has been unanimously decided by the assembly and since the clause has already been added in the constitution, a constitutional amendment would be required to make any changes in it now.
- Fourthly, Dr. Ambedkar concluded by making several remarks for the scheduled castes. He said that other minorities have got privileges in the past for a longer time, for example, the Muslims were receiving privileges since 1892, Christians from the Constitution of 1920 but the scheduled caste received it from the 1935 constitution and practically from 1937 which were also ceased by 1939. Therefore the Scheduled caste has received benefits only for 2 years by then and hence he believed that they should get a reservation for a longer term. But since the resolution of expiration on ten years has been passed he would not go against it, but yes the option of extension of this period if required, would always be there.
The issue of reservation has not solved even today in India, the parliament and the whole nation is still working on it. Some are actually receiving its benefits while some are suffering. Though the suffering is because of the lack of checks and balances. The parameters that were decided back then cannot work in the present era. The policy needs to be amended with time and by keeping in mind the current needs. Caste-based reservation might not be a solution now, the economy based reservation has to find wider dimensions and then only, India would be able to achieve the constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination.