MEDIA BIAS AGAINST RESERVATION — A RECENT TELLING EXAMPLE — NDTV 24 X 7’s PROGRAMME ANCHORED BY Ms BARKHA DUTT AT NEW JERSEY ON 23. 9. 2015
P.S. KRISHNAN, IAS (Retd)*
A typical example of media bias in dealing with Reservation issues is the senior NDTV 24 x 7 Anchor Ms Barkha Dutt’s programme telecast from New York on 23. 9. 2015 at 9 PM (IST). This was in the context of the agitation of some members of Patel community led by Hardik Patel in Gujarat. The programme consisted of two parts.
- A discussion with a number of Patels at an apparently Patel-owned restaurant in New Jersey.
- An interview of and discussion with the renowned economist Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati of the Columbia University recorded at the University campus and telecast in between the discussion at 1 above
About 1 above — One Sided Opinion-Taking
At the end of questions to a number of individuals and their answers, the Anchor asked those who wanted a review of the Reservation policy, changing it from caste-based Reservation to income-based Reservation to lift their hands and keep them lifted until she completed counting. All hands went up and she announced this fact. Perhaps to make matters doubly sure, she asked those who did not want such review of the Reservation policy to lift their hands and again she announced that not a single hand went up.
Without incurring the expenditure of going to New Jersey and calling a number of Patels together, I could have told her, or anybody else wanting to know, straightaway that if these two related questions were put to a group of Patels (or to a group belonging to any Socially Advanced Caste), the result would have been that all of them would want caste-based Reservation to be abolished, Reservation to be instituted only on economic criterion on the basis of an income cut-off (if at all Reservation is to be continued) and the Reservation policy should be reviewed from this point of view.
Media objectivity, I should suppose, should have required Ms Dutt to gather an assemblage of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (BCs) and put the same questions to them. If she had done so she would have got exactly the opposite result.
Media objectivity, I suppose, should have also required her to mention the proportions of the population in India of the two sets of communities holding the two views.
Participants’ Ignorance of Recent Reservation-related History — Anchor’s Failure to Inform Them
One of the participants explained that earlier the condition of the Backward Castes was bad and, therefore, caste-based Reservation was then necessary and Patels had accepted it. According to him, conditions have now changed and there is no need for Reservation for those castes. That well-meaning gentleman seems to have been cut off from the realities in Gujarat. He does not seem to be aware that soon after commencement of Reservation for BCs in Gujarat which was as late as 1978, when in 1980, in accordance with the Reservation Rules, a medical post-graduate seat was given to a SC candidate and could not be given to another candidate belonging to an Socially Advanced caste with slightly more marks, one of these powerful castes along with other Socially Advanced castes mounted a powerful agitation against Reservation in 1980-81 attacking the SCs. Apparently, it was not only dislike of Reservation that provoked them, but a deep-seated inherited hostility to the SCs who had traditionally been only farm-servants and other labourers at beck-and-call of the Socially Advanced castes. The fact that through Reservation for SCs, introduced in 1943 at the all-India level by the initiative of Dr Ambedkar, some SC persons had begun to get educated, progress and occupy positions of dignity was too much for the Socially Advanced castes to stomach. Again, when in 1985, the State Government under Shri Madhav Singh Solanki announced increase in the BC Reservation quota to 28% as recommended by the Rane Commission, closer to the population of BCs, there was a widespread agitation against Reservation by Patels and other Socially Advanced caste students, resulting in the withdrawal of the proposed increase (to be later again increased to 27% in 1994 in line with the Mandal Commission’s recommendations and the Government of India’s order of 1990 thereon).
The well-meaning gentleman who said things have changed does not seem to be aware of the continuing practices of “Untouchability” and caste-based discriminations against SCs, including social and economic boycott, in Gujarat as in most States and regions of India. He also does not seem to be aware that in all parameters of development, welfare and life the SCs and STs are at the bottom, the Socially Advanced Castes (SACs) such as Patels, Brahmins, Banias are at the top, and the BCs come in between, usually closer to the SCs and STs than to the SACs.
Ms Barkha Dutt who comes off in TV programmes as well-informed in many matters must be aware of these facts, but did not seem to find it necessary to take the trouble of informing them of these facts. If, however, she is not aware of these facts, I can give her plenty of material from official records in the public domain, in case she wants to know so that the presentations and programmes relating to Social Justice including Reservation she anchors are free from instinctive birth-based biases.
About 2 Above — Non-existent 90% Reservation Chimera Raised by Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati and Anchor’s Failure to Inform Him
Trailers of the interview were telecast from the previous day to whet the appetite of viewers including an assertion of Prof. Bhagwati that Reservation policy of India is a “disaster”. Prof. Bhagwati seemed to justify the agitation of young Hardik Patel (whom he referred to as “Heart-ache Patel” — Heart-ache to Mr. Narendra Modi) on the basis of a rhetorical question. That rhetorical question was: ‘If 90% of seats are reserved and a middle class family has to do with only 10% unreserved seats for its youth, what can such a family do?’ The learned Professor, himself also a Gujarati, does not seem to be aware that in Gujarat the total percent of Reservation is only 49% in posts in the services of the State as well as in seats in educational institutions. He does not seem to be aware that the Constitution of India as interpreted by the Supreme Court does not permit Reservation for social classes (SCs, STs and BCs) to exceed 50%. He also does not seem to be aware that, except one State all other States abide by this limit. Another fact he is not aware of is that the single State’s case where total Reservation has gone up to 69% (not 90% even in that State) is still before the Supreme Court and the court is passing remedial interim orders in educational admission-related cases from year to year to offset the excess of 19% over 50% and that whenever any other State tried to exceed the 50% limit and such effort was judicially challenged, the High Courts and Supreme Court have invalidated such orders of those States.
All these facts must have been known to the generally well-informed Ms Barkha Dutt. But she did not find it necessary to place the record straight so that Justice Bhagwati’s comments could be based on realities and not some non-existent 90% Reservation chimera.
Important Fact Ignored by Professor and Anchor — More than 90% of Medical and Other Professional Seats Unreserved — Reserved Seats only 7.5%
Another important factor which a learned Professor and an experienced media anchor should have laid their hands on, before entering into a free-wheeling attack on the Reservation policy of India, which was initiated by wise Maharajas well before Independence in order to rectify the imbalance, in governance and administration, of the monopoly or near-monopoly of a few castes and exclusion of most of the castes accounting for the bulk of the population, was to find out correct facts about the extent of Reservation in education, especially professional education, which is the main bone of contention.
Taking medical, dental, physiotherapy and engineering colleges, the number of seats to which Reservation applies, namely, Government colleges, Government-Aided colleges (only 75% seats in Government-Aided colleges, the rest being management quota), and Autonomous colleges, is 11531, while the number of seats to which Reservation does not apply, namely, Private and “self-financing” colleges, Public-Private Partnership colleges and management quota part of Government-Aided colleges is 63438. Out of the seats to which Reservation applies, only 49% is reserved for SCs, ST and BCs; this comes to 5650 seats, the remaining 5881 being unreserved seats. Adding this also, the total number of unreserved seats rises to 69319. The ratio is 7.5 % seats Reserved and 92.5% Unreserved seats.
The 90% mentioned by Prof. Bhagwati is correct; actually it is an underestimate, but it is the proportion of Unreserved seats. Is there any room, for complaint by Patels or other SACs?
Was it not the duty of one of the most renowned Professors of Economics in the world and one of the senior-most Indian Anchors to have taken these figures into account before indulging in imaginary chimeras of 90% Reservation and nostrums based on such utterly wrong diagnosis?
Reservation Policy Not a Disaster as the Professor Described, but Helped Prevent Disaster
Prof. Bhagwati vehemently characterized the Reservation policy of India as a “disaster”. When Ms Barkha Dutt drew him out further by specifically asking him whether this comment applied only to reservation for BCs and not Reservation for SCs and STs, Prof. Bhagwati made it clear beyond doubt that his opposition was to Reservation for SCs and STs also. Both of them seemed to be unaware that Reservation policy which has prevented a disaster in India by giving part relief and hope for the deprived people of India who form the vast majority of the Indian population.
Reservation Policy Long Preceded Mandal and Preceded Independence
Prof. Bhagwati referred to the Reservation policy as Mandal-based policy. Perhaps, he is not aware that Reservation in India started long before Mandal, that its beginnings were in 1902 and that it had covered the whole of peninsular India well before Independence and its main protagonists were enlightened and socially responsive Maharajas, and that even at the Central level , Reservation for SCs began before Independence in 1943 by the efforts of Dr Ambedkar, who was also an illustrious alumnus of the same Columbia University where Prof Bhagwati’s interview took place (though there was no reference either from the Professor or from the Anchor to this fact material to the subject of the interview).
Prof. Bhagwati’s Characterization of Muslims as Erstwhile Ruling Class
Another nugget from the interview was Prof. Bhagwati’s characterization of the Muslims, while referring to their plight, as the erstwhile ruling class, who therefore felt that they had been deprived of something which they earlier had. The anomaly of characterizing all people following a religion as a ruling class because the King belonged to the same religion did not strike him. Most of the Muslims of India, including Gujarat, are converts from the same castes whom we now call SCs and BCs. They had nothing to do with the King or administration. Though rulers of many parts of India were Hindus and even during the British colonial period, one-third of India was under Indian rulers, most of whom were Hindus, it did not make the Dalits and BCs of Hindus a ruling class. “Untouchability” and various forms of indignities and deprivations were inflicted upon them in territories and times of Hindu rule. The same is true with regard to the Muslims of Dalit and BC origin. It is this origin that underlies the present social and educational backwardness of the bulk of the Muslim population of India.
Wrong Diagnosis — Wrong and Unconstitutional Remedial Advice
Based on his diagnosis, which is totally off the mark, Prof. Bhagwati made the following suggestions:–
- Vastly increase the number of Unreserved seats
It will be anti-Constitutional to create and increase seats and not provide Reservation in them. In fact, even in the existing Unreserved private educational sector of seats, SCs, STs and BCs are kept out by flouting a Constitutional Amendment that was passed with virtual unanimity (with only one member abstaining and none voting against) in 2005 empowering the State (i.e., the Central and State Governments) to reserve, by law, seats in educational institutions including private institutions for SCs, STs and BCs. Since then the successive Governments at the Centre and most of the State Governments have been flouting this Constitutional amendment by not moving to get the required legislation passed.
(2) Move from Reservation to “giving handicaps” in terms of marks even up to 30%
Prof. Bhagwati did not seem to be aware and Ms Barkha Dutt did not inform him that the Supreme Court has laid down that in the case of BCs, the handicap of marks for admission should not exceed 10%, i.e., to say no BC should be admitted to Reserved seats unless his / her qualifying marks (in the qualifying examination) is within 10% of the marks obtained by the last of the Unreserved candidate admitted. In the final examination, at the end of the course, there is no handicap for SCs, STs or BCs. The marks they have to get for passing or for a Class / Division is the same for all candidates of all social classes.
Genuine Problem of Middle and Lower Middle Class Families — Appropriate Remedy Possible and Necessary — But Not Reservation
At the same time, it is also true that lower middle class and even middle class families of SACs find it impossible or extremely difficult to afford the fees in private colleges. The Supreme Court has observed that many of the private colleges are run with a commercial motive and deplored this tendency. The Government should not mollycoddle them and should lay down the fee structure on a proper basis, taking into account genuine expenses and allowing for a reasonable surplus for expansion (making sure that expansion for which surplus is allowed actually takes place). This fee structure will certainly be higher than the fee structure in Government collages. One remedy is for the Government to provide, on a liberal scale, scholarships and / or educational loans to students of families below an income and wealth cut-off. This does not require any tampering with Reservation which has been instituted for valid reasons inevitable in the Indian conditions which I have explained in my Paper titled “Agitation of Some Members of Patel/Patidar Community and Some Important Objective Facts about Reservation which are Ignored” (I have sent a copy of this paper to various media including NDTV 24x 7 at email firstname.lastname@example.org with the request that it should be placed before Ms Barkha Dutt) and in my various Papers and articles. It is welcome that the Anandiben Patel Government of Gujarat has taken a step in this direction. I hope that State Government and other State Governments and the Central Government will take steps regarding the fee structure in private/self-financing colleges and universities.
Another remedy is for the Government to invest more in education and expand the Government sector of education, instead of leaving expansion in education almost entirely to the private sector as many State Governments have already done and other State Governments are following.
In one of the few unbiased articles that have appeared in the media, Shiela Bhatt in the Indian Express (Delhi edition) dated 25.9.2015 has pointed out that five Private Universities in Central and North Gujarat including the Vallah Vidyanagar complex near Anand, Nirma University on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, and Ganpat University near Mehsana are run by wealthy Patels.
Reservation Not Cause of Vast Unemployment — Solution for Unemployment and Poverty Lies Elsewhere
The story is the same in the employment sector also, though Prof. Bhagwati did not specifically refer to this. The total number of posts in the public sector in Gujarat, namely, the State Government, quasi-Government and local bodies is 711000. Assuming an approximately 30-year cycle and, therefore, assuming approximately 3 percent of posts falling vacant annually, the total number of posts that may be filled in each year may be 21330, of which reserved seats (@49%) would be 10452 (if properly and fully filled up). The total number of educated job seekers registered in employment exchanges in Gujarat is 905500. The reserved seats constitute only 1.15% of the total educated unemployed.
Reservation cannot be blamed for the problems of poor members of the SACs who certainly deserve sympathy and appropriate help but not Reservation (the Arjun Sengupta Committee’s Report has shown that poverty is much more among SCs, STs, BCs and Muslims than among non-SC, non-ST, non-BC Hindus or SAC Hindus). The vast unemployment problem cannot be solved by the Reservation policy (Reservation policy was never intended to solve the unemployment problem but to counter Inequality and imbalance in the composition of governance and administration and educational opportunities) or by tampering with the Reservation policy.
Duty of Governments, Anchors, Scholarly Commentators and SACs in National Interest
Anchors like Barkha Dutt and eminent scholars who comment on Reservation in a free-wheeling manner, taking a predictable position which is based on their birth, must familiarize themselves with the facts which I have provided them and can provide them and realize that the purpose fo r which Reservation was started is yet unfulfilled and that purpose and the Constitutional mandate requires the adoption by all Governments of the full gamut of Social Justice measures (of which Reservation is only a part and not the whole) and implement them sincerely and enable the SC, ST and BC and every caste and tribe of them, to reach a level of Equality with SACs in all parameters and become capable of securing their due share of employment in and outside Government, seats in education at all levels in open competition, and really put an end to “Untouchability”. It is the duty of the SACs to fully cooperate with this and voluntarily abjure from imposing “Untouchability” on SCs, while seeking legitimate help for the really poor among them within the range of the Constitution. Periodic sniping at the Reservation and Social Justice policies and hampering or sabotaging their full implementation will hinder the growth and development of the nation and its economy which is our common goal and which is essential for effectively tackling widespread poverty, unemployment and underemployment.
The Author is Former Secretary to Government of India,