Arjun Singh interviewed by Karan Thapar.

Karan Thapar: Do you personally also, as Minister of Human Resource Development, believe that a reservation is the right and proper way to help the OBCs?

Arjun Singh: Certainly, that is one of the most important ways to do it.

Karan Thapar: The right way?

Arjun Singh: Also the right way.

Karan Thapar: In which case, let’s ask a few basic questions; we are talking about the reservations for the OBCs in particular. Do you know what percentage of the Indian population is OBC? Mandal puts it at 52 per cent, the National Sample Survey Organization at 32 per cent, the National Family and Health Survey at 29.8 per cent, which is the correct figure?

Arjun Singh: I think that should be decided by people who are more knowledgeable. But the point is that the OBCs form a fairly sizeable percentage of our population.

Karan Thapar: No doubt, but the reason why it is important to know ‘what percentage’ they form is that if you are going to have reservations for them, then you must know what percentage of the population they are, otherwise you don’t know whether they are already adequately catered in higher educational institutions or not.

Arjun Singh: That is obvious – they are not.

Karan Thapar: Why is it obvious?

Arjun Singh: Obvious because it is something which we all see.

Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that the NSSO, which is a government appointed body, has actually in its research in 1999 – which is the most latest research shown – that 23.5 per cent of all university seats are already with the OBCs. And that is just 8.5 per cent less than what the NSSO believes is the OBC share of the population. So, for a difference of 8 per cent, would reservations be the right way of making up the difference?

Arjun Singh: I wouldn’t like to go behind all this because, as I said, Parliament has taken a view and it has taken a decision, I am a servant of Parliament and I will only implement.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely, Parliament has taken a view, I grant it. But what people question is the simple fact – Is there a need for reservations? If you don’t know what percentage of the country is OBC, and if furthermore, the NSSO is correct in pointing out that already 23.5 per cent of the college seats are with the OBC, then you don’t have a case in terms of need.

Arjun Singh: College seats, I don’t know.

Karan Thapar: According to the NSSO – which is a government appointed body – 23.5 per cent of the college seats are already with the OBCs.

Arjun Singh: What do you mean by college seats?

Karan Thapar: University seats, seats of higher education.

Arjun Singh: Well, I don’t know I have not come across that far.

Karan Thapar: So, when critics say to you that you don’t have a case for reservation in terms of need, what do you say to them?

Arjun Singh: I have said what I had to say and the point is that it is not an issue for us to now debate.

Karan Thapar: You mean the chapter is now closed?

Arjun Singh: The decision has been taken.

Karan Thapar: Regardless of whether there is a need or not, the decision is taken and it is a closed chapter.

Arjun Singh: So far as I can see, it is a closed chapter and that is why I have to implement what all Parliaments have said.

Karan Thapar: Minister, it is not just in terms of ‘need’ that your critics question the decision to have reservation for OBCs in higher education. More importantly, they question whether reservations themselves are efficacious and can work.

For example, a study done by the IITs themselves shows that 50 per cent of the IIT seats for the SCs and STs remain vacant and for the remaining 50 per cent, 25 per cent are the candidates, who even after six years fail to get their degrees. So, clearly, in their case, reservations are not working.

Arjun Singh: I would only say that on this issue, it would not be correct to go by all these figures that have been paraded.

Karan Thapar: You mean the IIT figures themselves could be dubious?

Arjun Singh: Not dubious, but I think that is not the last word.

Karan Thapar: All right, maybe the IIT may not be the last word, let me then quote to you the report of the Parliamentary Committee on the welfare for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – that is a Parliamentary body.

It says that looking at the Delhi University, between 1995 and 2000; just half the seats for under-graduates at the Scheduled Castes level and just one-third of the seats for under-graduates at the Scheduled Tribes level were filled. All the others went empty, unfilled. So, again, even in Delhi University, reservations are not working.

Arjun Singh: If they are not working, it does not mean that for that reason we don’t need them. There must be some other reason why they are not working and that can be certainly probed and examined. But to say that for this reason, ‘no reservations need to be done’ is not correct.

Karan Thapar: Fifty years after the reservations were made, statistics show, according to The Hindustan Times, that overall in India, only 16 per cent of the places in higher education is occupied by SCs and STs. The quota is 22.5 per cent, which means that only two-thirds of the quota is occupied. One third is going waste, it is being denied to other people.

Arjun Singh: As I said, the kinds of figures that have been brought out, in my perception, do not reflect the realities. Realities are something much more and of course, there is an element of prejudice also.

Karan Thapar: But these are figures that come from a Parliamentary Committee. It can’t be prejudiced; they are your own colleagues.

Arjun Singh: Parliamentary Committee has given the figures, but as to why this has not happened, that is a different matter.

Karan Thapar: I put it to you that you don’t have a case for reservations in terms of need; you don’t have a case for reservations in terms of their efficacy, why then, are you insisting on extending them to the OBCs?

Arjun Singh: I don’t want to use that word, but I think that your argument is basically fallacious.

Karan Thapar: But it is based on all the facts available in the public domain.

Arjun Singh: Those are facts that need to be gone into with more care. What lies behind those facts, why this has not happened, that is also a fact.

Karan Thapar: Let’s approach the issue of reservations differently in that case. Reservations mean that a lesser-qualified candidate gets preference over a more qualified candidate, solely because in this case, he or she happens to be an OBC. In other words, the upper castes are being penalized for being upper caste.

Arjun Singh: Nobody is being penalized and that is a factor that we are trying to address. I think that the prime Minister will be talking to all the political parties and will be putting forward a formula, which will see that nobody is being penalized.

Karan Thapar: I want very much to talk about that formula, but before we come to talk about how you are going to address concerns, let me point one other corollary – Reservations also gives preference and favor to caste over merit. Is that acceptable in a modern society?

Arjun Singh: I don’t think the perceptions of modern society fit India entirely.

Karan Thapar: You mean India is not a modern society and therefore can’t claim to be treated as one?

Arjun Singh: It is emerging as a modern society, but the parameters of a modern society do not apply to large sections of the people in this country.

Now take a moment to congratulate Karan Thapar for skillfully exposing Arjun Singh for the clueless dolt he is.


UNITED PROGRESSIVE Alliance’s (UPA’s) one minister has gone into my head and this ’great’ personality is Arjun Singh. This social engineer wants to become a hero of the so called ’backward classes’, and in the process, he is neglecting the highest education institutes of the country. If All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) became a battleground during the reservation stir, the focus has now shifted to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The new order states that nearly half of all faculty positions at the public institutes and IITs should be reserved for members of lower castes and classes, effective immediately. This is just mindless.

Take into account that the minimum requirement for such a position is a PhD. So even after a PhD, one would need the help of a crutch to further one’s career? Does that not bring into question the quality of education itself? It becomes laughable when you consider the fact that the IITs find it difficult to fill in the required faculty positions even from candidates of ’forward classes’ since they are not ready to cut down on quality. [According to fellow blogger Brainwave

The reservation, however, comes with a clause. In case the reserved seats remain unfilled for a whole year, they are de-reserved. By which time the ruling parties can claim their victory in the election and the whole issue is forgotten. Who cares if the IITs have to make do with fewer (or even worse, lesser qualified) faculty?

The UPA government is playing a caste based politics and unfortunately ruining the world renowned institutes for the sake of political mileage. The autonomy, quality and reputation is at stake and yet the government is doing nothing to enhance the standards and infrastructure of these institutes and is inclined to bring down the quality. Arjun Singh and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has taken a few decisions, which will have their impact in the near future.

If we closely look at the various decisions on reservations in education and now in faculty positions, this has been supported by UPA and none of the opposition party showed any guts to oppose the move either. I have always opposed any reservations based on caste and there are many other solutions that can be more fruitful and at the same time non-injurious to health of these elite institutes. But you can do nothing because your representatives are echoing your sentiments and wishes in Parliament. Right?

I want more reservations now. This will help my country push on the verge of a caste war at a faster rate and this is the ultimate aim of our politicians, who are our representatives. If Arjun Singh does believe that deserving candidates who hail from the ’reserved’ category of the great Indian caste system do not get a fair evaluation due to discrimination, should he not be looking for means to introduce fairness in the process rather than arbitrarily lowering the bar? If not, then there should be reservations in judiciary. After all it is very essential for maintaining the fairness, which can not be provided by the current structure. If we are unable to find reserved candidates for the post, then there should be a recruitment drive to fill the vacant seats.

There should be reservations in sports. How come they have allowed majority of upper caste players in Cricket and Hockey. Even Australian media reported during the last tour that caste plays a more important role than merit in the Indian cricket team. The ’upper caste’ have dominated this stage and its time for them to sit back and let the others take charge of the field. The honourable sports minister, MS Gill should talk to Arjun Singh on this issue and he will definitely find a support from our representatives!

There should be a provision for quota in Bollywood too. Arjun Singh has made reservations in institutes offering the courses related to Film and Television but that is not sufficient. Everyone dreams of making it big into Bollywood and if we can have some provisions, then what is the harm? Moreover, till date there have been no reservations in the field, which makes it ’upper caste’ dominated!

I feel that our defence forces need to implement quota at the earliest. After all every one should be given a chance to serve his motherland. And let me take our defence minister AK Anthony in confidence that merit is not compromised if we provide reservations. As it is, we are facing shortage of officers in the armed forces, the vacant positions can be filled by the backward classes and thus we need no special arrangement to accommodate them as well. The government is planning to hike the limit of Other Backward Classes (OBC) creamy layer up to Rs4.5 lakhs per annum (LPA) and hence should also increase the pay of armed forces personnels to that level, else our officers and soldiers will continue to remain backward. Rs 4.5 LPA means that people with sufficient means can still take refuge of the societal clutch, while the really poor are still left to limp by. So what?

There should be reservations in the private sector. After all the policies of government lead to closing of the various Public Sector Units (PSUs), now it is the turn of private firms. Ram Vilas Paswan claims that the private sector is biased in its recruitment procedure and thus reservation is a must. I totally agree with you Paswan. You have done so much to improve the conditions of the people from your constituency! You held the post of minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and suddenly you realised that the communal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led NDA did nothing for the backward people and you resigned barely months before the elections. Then you thought of keeping the ’communal forces’ at the bay by joining hands with ’secular forces’ and regained a post of minister for your intentions and support. Even after holding the post of minister for 10 years, you still call yourself a backward!

There should be reservations in the organisational structure of a political party as well. Why is it so that during 55 years of its rule, the Congress failed to have a backward Prime Minister? The party workers want the party to be run by Gandhi’s only. Don’t they want the ’oldest secular party’ to be led by a person belonging to backward caste? The list of second generation leaders in Congress shows that they don’t have adequate representation of all sections of the people. Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Maken, Priya Dutt, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasad and Sandeep Dikshit all belong to upper caste. The party, which has gone to the hilt to promote social equality has failed to do so within its own organisation. This is not fair Sonia Gandhi. I know Rajiv Gandhi opposed the caste based reservations but now the time has changed. Your most ’loyal team member’ has pressed so hard for reservations in education that it astounds me that he forgot any such reservations in your party.

People like Laloo, Mulayam, Sharad Yadav have always fought for the upliftment of down trodden and promoted equality, but these are the biggest hurdles in passage of Women’s Reservation Bill. Did they forget that a woman, who can manage the home irrespective of its condition, can really improve the state of this nation? When it comes to sharing their profit, they are unwilling to do so.

Mind you, you cannot comment on what an Indian politician thinks (that is, if he actually does)!

The government should form a new ministry, which can work on various strategies and come up with ideas of providing reservations in new form and new fields where it can be provided. But then the minister should be rotated in one term of the government. Else there will be reports of biasness against one backward caste by the other. Let this word ’reservation’ grip our entire nation. The Vision 2020 will be achieved when we will have no merit and all of us will be backward in our own respect.

Narayan Murthy once said that India is perhaps the only country where people fight to be called backwards. The upper caste especially ’Brahmins’ should be thrown out of the country because their ’genes’ represent ancestral crime records. In this way, we can correct the historical wrong. The large scale unrest, which will result due to this word ’reservation’ will change the landscape of India. We had division on the basis of religion in 1947 and now we can have a division based on caste/creed/class/colour. Congress played a role in the division the last time around and it can repeat that feat again. If educational institutions can be split based upon percentages in population, then why not the territory itself?

India was only an experiment post independence by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (he is credited for unifying the 600 odd princely states), which is failing now and that too very badly.

RTI on Reservations to MHRD makes a shocking revelation

Well well. Arjun Singh’s reservation row is now almost two long years old now & the Supreme Court judgement has given the government a green signal to implement the reservations, sans the creamy layer.

So the government shall now work towards implementation, right?

But, do we have any clues about the status of the implementations that were supposed to be have already been taken care of by the government?

The government is trying its best to implement the 27% OBC reservation from this academic year but is not keeping the promise of not reducing the seats of the general category. The government is also trying to misread the judgement of the Supreme Court.

A RTI filed to the Ministry of HRD by Youth for Equality to know the status of the implementation of the recommendations by Moily Oversight Committee, unraveled some shocking facts implying that Mr. Arjun Singh seems to be taking the nation for a ride.

The following is the RTI that was filed by YFE:

RTI by YFE to MHRD Page 1

RTI by YFE to MHRD Page 2

The reply from UGC speaks for itself and is given below:

Reply to RTI from UGC

What action is being taken to ensure that the seats for general category will not be affected because of the reservations?

You say you will increase the seats and the infrastructure, but can you do it without the appointment of teachers. That is great, Mr Arjun Singh!

The government is in the election year and is just finding ways to implement the quotas without doing any homework. It seems they are just not bothered about the education in the country.

What a new low is this in the politics of India?

Its high time for all of us to stand and get ourselves counted.

“When evil forces unite, it is time for the good to join hands and become a force.”

If you are willing to join YFE and support this cause please contact them on

Aaj Ka Arjun: Piggybacking the Indian Reservations

Arjun SinghEighteen years can be an eternity in politics: on September, 6, 1990, a stirring speech was made in parliament criticising the Mandal commission report.

“If you believe in a casteless society, every major step you take must be such that you move towards a casteless society. And you must avoid taking any steps which takes you to a caste-ridden society. Unfortunately, the step we are taking today in accepting the Mandal report, is a caste formula. While accepting this reality, we must dilute that formula and break it by adding something to it. Even at this late hour, there is time to pull the country back from caste division… ministers are provoking caste wars. Are we going back to the Round Table Conference for having separate electorates? That was designed to break our country. An issue like reservation cannot be treated in a piecemeal manner. We must look at the whole picture.”

The author of the speech? None other than the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Given Arjun Singh’s love for history and the Nehru-Gandhi family (every room in his house is dotted with portraits of the Congress’s first family), it is possible that he has read Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in parliament on the Mandal debate. Yet, as the scriptwriter for Mandal Part II, Singh may well be having a quiet chuckle as he describes the Supreme Court order upholding 27 per cent quotas for Other Backward Classes (OBC) as ‘historic’ and a ‘vindication’ of the stand he has taken. After all, in a rare display of unanimity, not a single politician worth his vote has chosen to voice even the slightest disagreement with Singh’s formula. The ghost of the Congress’s posterboy PM seems to have been well and truly buried.

What explains this tectonic shift? The answer must be found in the rise of competitive politics in the last two decades and the end of the era of Congress dominance. So long as the Congress enjoyed a monopolistic position in Indian politics, it could afford to ignore the yearnings for greater empowerment at the bottom and middle of the caste pyramid. The backward castes in south of the Vindhyas had already been accommodated within the ruling arrangement through a pre-independence social revolution. It was only when the winds of political change began to sweep across north India that the real transformation occurred. Once the Mulayams and the Lalus shook the foundation of the Congress in the 1990s and captured power across the Hindi heartland, the party had little choice but to fall in line with the new order.

Nehru, especially, was contemptuous of caste. In a circular sent to the presidents of all the Pradesh Congress committees in 1954, Nehru said:

“In particular, we must fight whole-heartedly against those narrow divisions which have grown up in our country in the name of caste, which weaken the unity, solidarity and progress of the country”.

Indira Gandhi, although much less ideologically inclined, was also discomfited by caste assertion, choosing to combat the rising power of the OBCs in the 1967 elections with her universal ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. Rajiv Gandhi reflected an English-speaking public school educated mindset in dealing with caste politics: the speech in parliament in 1990 was only one example of his singular distaste for grappling with the complexity of caste equations.

When Gujarat chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s politically successful experiment in the mid-1980s with backward-caste alliances led to an upper-caste backlash, Rajiv was quick to dismiss him, an error of judgment for which the Congress is still paying a price in the state. Right through the Rajiv-Indira years, no attempt was made to push forward with the Mandal report commissioned by Morarji Desai’s government in 1977.

Why VP Singh resurrected the Mandal genie in the 1990 remains the subject of much debate: his supporters have suggested that the Raja of Manda was a genuine  revolutionary, committed to notions of social justice, and someone with the foresight to recognise the changing political landscape in the country. It is more likely that the Janata Dal PM saw the implementation of the report as a weapon to silence his critics within and outside his rickety coalition. VP’s Mandal operation was done by stealth, not conviction, designed to safeguard his own precarious position in the government.

Ironically, 18 years later, another upper-caste Thakur from north India, has chosen to make caste-based reservations his calling card. If VP Singh used the Mandal report to consolidate himself politically, Arjun Singh too has bolstered his stature by pushing ahead with OBC reservations. Both VP and Arjun cut their teeth in the Indira Gandhi school of politics: a politics of convenience, not always of conviction.

Both became CMs in the latter period  of the Indira era, neither showing any inclination in their home states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to engage in radical social engineering. Both were faced with shrinking political bases, Arjun Singh even facing the humiliation of coming third to the BSP in his pocket borough of Satna in 1996. In fact, both were recognised as good administrators rather than charismatic vote-gatherers or harbingers of a new political order. Both have masked their vaulting ambition under the guise of morality: if VP was the crusader against corruption, Arjun Singh has projected himself as the protector of Nehruvian secularism.

VP Singh at least managed to attain the ultimate prize. Arjun Singh, by contrast, has always been the also-ran, never the bridegroom. In 1991, he was a front-runner for the prime ministership, only to find himself being edged out by Narasimha Rao. As HRD minister in the Rao government, Singh showed no desire to push for reservations.

It was left to then social welfare minister, Sitaram Kesri, whose memory has now been virtually deleted from the Congress archives, to champion the Mandal report. Singh, by contrast, was identified  as the saviour of the minorities: demanding white papers on the Babri Masjid demolition, giving grants to minority institutes and organising seminars on secularism. With his nemesis Rao being seen as soft on Hindu communalism, it suited Arjun Singh’s political ambitions to emerge as a defender of minority interests.

Now, in his second coming as HRD minister, Singh has offered another alternative: If Manmohan Singh’s core constituency is the urban middle-class, Singh has appealed to the disadvantaged groups. If the PM is the symbol of the new economy based on merit and efficiency, Singh represents the older order based on handouts and patronage. If the PM wants to encourage private enterprise, Singh would prefer to strengthen the role of government through sops and entitlements.

If the left attacks the PM for elitism, Singh is embraced for chanting the mantra of equity. Reservations, be it for minorities or backwards, have been the Madhya Pradesh leader’s ultimate political weapon in his battle to retain relevance: having already worn the hat of secularism and socialism, he has now added the cap of social justice. It’s a triple whammy, the kind which should make it impossible to ignore or isolate him.

With such high political stakes, who then cares if the government’s flagship primary education schemes are in a mess? Who cares if the drop-out rate among Dalits, Muslims and backward caste students remains unconscionably high? Who bothers if the infrastructure is not in place to manage the reservation fallout in IITs and IIMs? Who worries if quality education continues to suffer?

Unfortunately, for Mr Singh, it may be too late now to achieve his ambitions: he is unlikely to be seen as a future prime ministerial candidate in a party waiting to see the emergence of a Rahul Raj. But there is compensation: Arjun Singh is the only member of the cabinet to have a road named after him. What Jamia Millia Islamia University has done today, pro-reservationists may wish to do tomorrow.

By Rajdeep Sardesai
From Hindustan Times dated 18/04/08