Sunday, July 21, 2024

Review of Reservation Policy a litmus test for the state


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By Albert Thyrniang

The All India Garo Union (AIGU) threat of violence vis a vis any change in the Reservation Policy is a shocker. The Union warned of the possibility of riots if the 40:40 Reservation Policy for the Khasi-Jaintia and the Garo communities is altered. The statement is condemnable. However, it underlines the strong feeling the people of Garo Hills have against any change in the existing policy. All stakeholders in the western part of the state want nothing less than the status quo. If the 40: 40 formula is modified, unrest is not ruled out. Common sense foresees it. It happened in the past. Learn from the past for history not to repeat itself.
In the last few days the expert committee, which came into effect in September last year, has been busy receiving representations from political parties and groups in Shillong, the state capital. Broadly speaking, those from Khasi Jaintia Hills favour change in the 1972 promulgated policy while those from Garo Hills are sternly opposed to any review, leave alone revision and modification. The proposals from the eastern region include hiking the reservation to more than 40, ranging from 45 to 50 %, for their community. The advocates for the change claim the Khasis and Jaintias combined are significantly more in number than their counterparts, the Garos. Notably the Voice of the People’s Party (VPP) whose president Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit’s hunger strike in May last year gave birth to the expert committee, has reiterated its demand for a 50 % share while that of the Garos should remain intact. If the percentage is not enhanced then the voices from the Khasi-Jaintia sector are of the view that Khasi-Jaintia and Garo communities should settle for a joint reservation of 80 per cent. A political party has even suggested that the reservation for all the tribes of the states should be a combined 93 per cent.
However, the groups representing Garo Hills are firmly against the above notions. In no uncertain terms they stand for the maintenance of the current 40 per cent quota. Anything less will be unacceptable. Former Tura Legislator, John Leslee K Sangma has even written to the expert committee demanding that the reservation for his people ought to be elevated to 50 per cent citing that the Garos have not reaped the fruits of reservation. It is not only the All India Garo Union that has warned of violence. The GSU too foresees a law and order situation if the minimum of 40 per cent reservation is lowered.
The proponents of the hike for the Khasis and Jaintias naturally see the benefits. Even the advocates of the joint 80 per cent for the three major tribes, the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos or the 93 per cent (or whatever) for all the tribes think their people are to gain. The Garo Hills ‘representatives’ on the other hand reject the above suggestions on the plea that the Garos are at a disadvantage, educationally and economically.
With such contrasting views a meeting ground is hard to find. It is a litmus test for the review committee to navigate. It is a tough ask to satisfy everybody. If the expert committee perceptibly goes against any then group passions will run high. It is not only in Garo Hills. It is applicable to Khasi-Jaintia Hills as well. Tension could arise here too if the committee’s decision is ‘unfavourable’. Rumours will spread like wildfire. Instigators with vested interests, will mislead the gullible and agitated public. Even if a non-sectarian and completely evidence-based conclusion is arrived at as envisaged by The Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) mobs, we know, are not ruled by reason. The review of the Reservation Policy is a test for the unity of and co-existence of the three tribes in the state. It is a challenge for peace and harmony in Meghalaya.
The review of the Reservation Policy was not the reason for the birth of the VPP in November 2021. Clean politics was the core founding principle. The review of the Reservation Policy became part of the VPP’s agenda only when Adelbert Nongrum joined the party in January, 2023, prior to the Assembly elections. The former lone National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) MLA had in March the previous year moved a resolution in the Meghalaya Assembly demanding a ‘review and revamp’ of the Policy but he was defeated by a voice vote with none supporting him. The VPP then agreed to include the demand to revisit the Policy to pave the way for Nongrum’s entry. The prospect of a winnable candidate to add to their numbers in the 2023 elections was too good to be missed.
The VPP enlisted the Reservation Policy in their manifesto in the February 2023 Assembly elections. The VPP won four seats and soon began to make their demand heard through various media. It culminated in the indefinite fast of its supremo, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit that lasted for 10 days. Unnerved by the massive support from Khasi and Jaintia Hills the government buckled under pressure and hurriedly made the pact to review the Policy which the chief minister himself had described to be ‘time testing toll’ while replying to Nongrum’s resolution.
Many among the VPP’s founders are academicians. As true scholars they carefully crafted the ideology of the party they would establish. Concerned at the degrading polity in the state they decided to change the way politics is practiced. Alarmed at the rampant corruption they decided to found a political party that would fight for its eradication. Troubled by the sight of how voters were bought by wealthy candidates during elections they dared to set up a party that promises that their candidates would do none of it. This was a great idea but to dare to execute it was even greater. The founding fathers proved everyone wrong when voters aligned themselves with the philosophy of the VPP and voted overwhelmingly for their MP candidate this time.
However, in the VPP there are also politicians who arrived from street politics. At least two of the MLAs, including the number one, comes from a pressure group background. They were shrill pressure group leaders before graduating to active politics. Their instinct of ‘quick solution’ still persists. Hence the politics of Reservation Policy was drafted in. Clean politics is attractive but the leadership suspected it would not be sufficient to win seats. The Reservation Policy was an apt opportunity. It is the demand for the review of the ‘outdated’ policy that sky-rocketed the popularity of the VPP. The humiliating ‘loss’ of NPP and Congress MLAs and MDCs in the recent MP election is attributed also to the demand for review of the Reservation Policy.
The VPP demand for review of the Reservation Policy is certainly linked to politics. It is quite a straightforward demand to raise the 40 per cent reservation for the Khasi-Jaintia tribe and lower that of the Garo community according to the population of the two major groups. The VPP does not care about reservation for the deserving, the underprivileged and deprived sections. For political mileage it expounds a general increase for the residents of Khasi and Jaintia region. To be fair it is not only the VPP which keeps mum on reservation for those who deserve the state’s positive discrimination. All those who have lined up to present their submissions have excluded this point in their document. We point to the VPP because through its ‘initiative’ the policy is being reviewed.
The Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) is the only exception. The organisation proposed that the ‘Deprivation Point System’ be adopted in the new policy. A newspaper report says, “This deprivation point would be based on both the individual’s family background as well as where she (he) is from and where she (he) has been educated.”
This is a noble concept because we know very well that the job reservation policy has benefited the elite and creamy layers most. It is the children of politicians, bureaucrats, government employees, the educated and the rich that have harvested the fruits of reservation. In the same families there are three/four members who are employed in the government. Generation after generation government jobs are ‘handed’ over to those in the same family.
No political party will like to change this practice because in politics too it is the same. In Jaintia Hills wealthy politicians even commission their children to contest from outside their home districts. Hope the VPP banishes this money power practice. In the Garo Hills we have two Sangma families. Saleng A Sangma is the first in nearly five decades to defeat the PA Sangma family in the Lok Sabha elections. This trend should continue otherwise it is the electorate that make politicians think that politics is reserved for them.
To avoid unnecessary bad blood the review of the Reservation Policy could be put on hold for another 15/20 years unless the overhaul is to bring deserving sections at par with the rest.


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