Published: 03rd March 2021
Anna University issue stirs up reservation debate: Do you know how, why and when Tamil Nadu created a 69% reservation policy?
Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy is the highest in the state and because of this, it has been repeatedly challenged and debated
Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy was called into question when Anna University dropped two of its centrally funded courses over confusion regarding whether the State’s or the Centre’s reservation policy should be followed.
Tamil Nadu says 69 per cent. The Centre says 49.5 per cent.
The Madras High Court then directed the University to follow the Centre’s 49.5 reservation policy. Even when Anna University was given the ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag, the debate over the quota policy was up for debate again because institutes with the tag are expected to follow the Centre’s reservation policy. In early February, a Chennai resident challenged the 69 per cent reservation policy in the Supreme Court as well. A few days ago, the Supreme Court said it had no say in the matter since it was up to the state government.
Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy is literally the highest in the country — no other state comes even close to having this much reservation — and because of this, it has been repeatedly challenged and debated. But has the reservation policy benefited the state and why have successive governments guarded it so fiercely since Independence. Before all that, how did the state arrive at the number 69? For this, we go back to 1916.
Anna University's reservation quota is back in question
In November 1916, the non-Brahmin manifesto was released. The manifesto demanded better representation in education and employment for non-Brahmins, “Not less than 40 out of 41 and a half million, who form the population of this presidency, are non-Brahmins, and the bulk of the taxpayers, including a large majority of the zamindars, landholders and agriculturists, also belong to the same class. But they have not taken the part to which they are entitled,” the manifesto said. In the Provincial Civil Service exam, 15 out of the 16 successful candidates were Brahmins, giving them 94 per cent success, the same results reflected in several other government exams, they added. “It is curious to note that even where competitive exams did not exist, as for instance in the Subordinate Judicial Service, the major portion of the appointments were in the hands of the Brahmins,” the manifesto read. If there was someone who wanted to bring about a change in this, they were harshly criticised in the Brahmin media, the manifesto added.
The non-Brahmin conference eventually led to the formation of the South Indian Liberal Federation, popularly known as the ‘Justice Party’ in 1916. The Justice Party won the 1920 Madras Presidency Legislative Council Elections and in 1921, the government issued the first Communal Government Order (GO) becoming the first elected body in Indian Legislative history to legislate on affirmative action (reservations).
In 1928, a fresh GO was issued for reservation for Depressed Classes as well. Out of every 12 government posts the GO stated, “five had to go to non-Brahmin Hindus, two to Brahmins, two to Muslims, two to Anglo Indians or Christians, and one to the Depressed Classes.” In 1947, the allocation and classifications were modified with a unit of 14 vacancies instead of 12 and it was made in the following order — Non-Brahmin Hindus (6), Brahmins (2), Muslims (1), Anglo Indians and Christians (1), Scheduled Castes (2) and Backward Hindus (2).
Justice Party was the first to propose affirmative action
The next major milestone in the history of reservations in Tamil Nadu took place in 1950 when the Supreme Court upheld Madras High Court’s decision to strike down the Communal GO providing caste-based reservations in jobs and education. The Supreme Court's verdict in the State of Madras versus Champakkam Dorairajan case held that providing such reservations was in violation of Article 29 (2) of the Indian Constitution. This judgment led to protests in the state chiefly by the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). K Kamaraj, the former Chief Minister also endorsed the protests by the oppressed classes.
Eventually, this incident led to the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which was laid down in Article 46 as a ‘Directive Principle of State Policy’ that the State should promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and protect them from social injustice. The amendment also allowed the State the opportunity to make special provisions for the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens. The amendment stated that it may not be challenged on the ground of being discriminatory and Article 15 (4) was suitably revised.
After the amendment, the Tamil Nadu government decided on the following rates of reservation — 16 per cent for SC and STs and 25 per cent for OBCs. The next prominent year in the history of reservation policy in Tamil Nadu was 1971, when the Sattanathan Commission was constituted. The Commission introduced the concept of the ‘creamy layer’ and suggested sub-categorisation. Based on the Commission's recommendations, the DMK government increased OBC reservations to 31 per cent and for SC/ST the reservation was increased to 18 per cent. The total quota rose to 49 per cent.
M Karunanidhi, K Kamaraj and Dr MGR
CN Annadurai, M Karunanidhi in a meeting
In 1980, former Chief Minister Dr MGR of the ADMK decided to include the ‘creamy layer’ clause in OBC reservations and settled at Rs 9000 per annum as the upper limit to avail reservation benefits. This led to widespread protests by the DK and DMK and MGR’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections was also attributed to this decision. Subsequently, the decision to determine reservation on the basis of economics was withdrawn and the reservation for OBCs was increased to 50 per cent. The Ambashankar Commission was then constituted on the Supreme Court’s directions. The Commission identified the dominance of a few castes within the categories in enjoying reservation. In response, it recommended sub-categorisation by grouping OBCs on their degree of backwardness, exclusion and inclusion of a few castes. The Commission recommended the reduction of OBC reservation quota to 32 per cent to be in line with the court’s ruling of reservation quota being under 50 per cent.
In 1989, following the Vanniyar protests, the DMK split up the OBC reservation into two parts — 30 per cent for OBCs and 20 per cent for MBCs, 18 per cent for SCs and one percent for STs. Finally reaching the number 69. But history doesn’t end there. This number was challenged in court.
In 1992, the Supreme Court in the context of the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations, ruled that the reservation quota should not exceed 50 per cent and to introduce creamy layer clause for OBCs. Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy was now threatened. It was in 1994 that former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ensured that the state's reservation policy was included in the Ninth Schedule. She was the key person who ensured that TN’s reservation system was guaranteed legislative backing. She approached the Centre to amend the constitution to provide constitutional protection to the reservation system. By including it in the ninth schedule, the Chief Minister ensured that its validity is suitably upheld. “Tamil Nadu does not follow creamy layer criteria for seats and posts in its purview, thereby emphasising on the perennial social and educational backwardness as against temporary economic backwardness. The Mandal Commission recommendation for implementations in jobs and education were welcomed by Tamil Nadu with a lot of interest and duly implemented on the prescribed terms,” adds Vignesh Karthik, a political scientist and doctoral student at King's College London, UK.
J Jayalalithaa with Periyar, the former CM ensured the policy remained valid
A reason why Tamil Nadu has been at the forefront of the reservation movement in India is that discourse on representation started here, years before it started anywhere else. “In 1897 itself, Iyothee Thass, an anti-caste activist, had demanded better representation. But much before that, when Madras was the capital city for the British, only members of one dominant caste occupied all the jobs. They were also the same caste to benefit from education. Many activists demanded better representation at that time itself. People constantly endeavoured to find a way to get an education and jobs. Also, Christian missionaries were setting up schools, thus influencing the Tamil population to pursue education seriously,” writer Adhavan Deetchanya tells us.
Even though the upper castes have frequently criticised Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy, ionically, according to Adhavan, says that it was the members of the Brahmin community who had first asked for reservations, “Now in Karnataka too the situation was the same, except that the jobs in Mysore were occupied mostly by Telugu or Tamil Brahmins and Brahmins who were born in Karnataka were not landing too many jobs. At that point, ironically it was the Brahmins in Karnataka who demanded that jobs be reserved for them,” the writer says.
He also explained how the Leslie Miller Committee, constituted in 1918, was believed to be the first-ever attempt to explore possibilities of reservations in India. “Diwan M Visvesvaraya, the popular civil engineer resigned in protest against the recommendations of the committee. They have always been against sharing their positions with people from other communities. They have over the years vehemently opposed any effort to open up opportunities for members of other communities, especially oppressed communities,” the writer feels.
Madras High Court
The writer finds it ridiculous that the upper castes repeatedly challenge the state’s reservation policy especially because nobody raised any objection to the EWS reservations implemented in 2019, “ When they announced the 10 per cent reservations for the EWS category, why did the court not consider that 10 per cent fewer candidates will be competing in the general category?” Tamil Nadu’s population is such that we need a 69 per cent reservation policy here, why should anyone question that, the writer asks.
DMK Member of Parliament and Advocate P Wilson agrees, “In Tamil Nadu 80 percent of the population constitute of backward classes which is why we have a 69 per cent reservation quota in place. When such a huge population is backward, we have to ensure they have equal access to education and jobs. We have to set right the social injustices meted out to the community in the past. All of a sudden how can they be expected to uplift themselves. Tamil Nadu has been doing so well all along because it has managed to uplift the depressed communities through adequate reservations, ” he feels. “As to Anna University’s case, the university created under the State Act cannot say that it will not follow State Act granting 69% reservations. The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation In Admission) Act 2006 states clearly that it applies only to centrally funded Universities, so why should the question even arise?” the MP asks.
“People keep talking about a modern society, what is more modern than having an equal society?” Adhavan points out. In fact, the ‘creamy layer’ concept is a subject that deserves debate, he adds, “For EWS seats, the students termed economically weak come from families that make a maximum of Rs 8 lakh per annum. And the ‘creamy layer’ OBC, who are supposedly ‘rich’ are also those who make Rs 8 lakh per annum. So if the upper castes make 8 lakh, they are poor and the OBCs who make the same are rich?”
In celebratory mode
The best argument in support of reservation is the progress Tamil Nadu has made since Independence, Vignesh says, “A lot has been said about the reservation policy in Tamil Nadu but I think it is very simple to determine its impact. It is easily perceivable that the policy has helped subalterns across communities and looking at the outcomes, I can see people are genuinely doing better in life. Take, for example, the IT revolution, it was largely beneficial only to upper castes across the country. However, in Tamil Nadu, a good number of people from even the smallest towns have been able to benefit from it. And that is because of our reservation policy.”
And the results have been far beyond anything else, “The outcome that I see here hasn’t happened in any other state. If people can give me any other reason for this progress, I’m ready to listen, but we can definitely make a direct connection between the policy and the development in the state. Renowned economist Thomas Piketty argued that the reservation system followed in India is one of the best-implemented policies that has considerably reduced socio-economic inequality ” the researcher said.
But it isn’t just about education or jobs, Vignesh says, the policy has also empowered people in the state who now hold political leaders accountable for their words and actions, “The sense of empowerment has developed so well over the last 100 years that today, we as a people cannot tolerate it even if the regional parties go against their ideology. We look at them on the same plane as us. In the North, many anti-caste leaders are now seen as benefactors but here leaders are subject to a lot of scrutiny. Scholars like Vivek Srinivasan have traced back the culture of asking questions to the Dravidian and the Left socio-political movements. The leaders cannot openly ask the people to be perpetually grateful for what the government is doing. People are only grateful to the leaders on the condition that the leaders follow the ideals they stand for,” Vignesh opines.