BJP Kerala unit chief Kummanam Rajasekharan's demand that CPM MLAs who were elected from reserved constituencies should resign is not only an open challenge to the Constitution of India but also possibly the biggest political mistake a leader can make in the present times.
Kummanam in an apparent bid to expose the alleged double standards of the communist leaders, who claim not to believe in the caste system but enjoy its benefits, said Tuesday that if the CPM was sincere on its stance against the caste system, its MLAs who were elected from reserved constituencies should resign. However, one can't be blamed if the veteran hardline RSS man's comment is interpreted as either his objection to or his ignorance about the idea of reservation, which is a unique feature of the Indian constitution.
Ignorant statements like the one Kummanam made are often raised against those who call for the abolition of the caste system. Every time a person, often a dalit, speaks about atrocities in the name of caste system and call for a movement against the social evil, the anti-reservation crusaders sharpen their tongue and ask the decades-old question -- then why do you enjoy benefits of caste-based reservation?
The answer is simple. Caste-based reservation is a powerful tool provided by the Constitution to ensure social justice to all in a democracy, and the beneficiaries are supposed to make maximum use of it. Caste is a complex and deep-rooted phenomenon which plays its role in many ways, both visible and invisible, in Indian society. However, for people like Kummanam reservation is the only evident form of caste practice and those who get its benefit are the ones who keep the system alive. The challenge he threw at the legislators who were elected from assembly segments reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is the same that a number of dalit and other backward students and job seekers face on a daily basis. A slew of trolls questioning the reservation system alone would prove it.
The caste system is complex because sometimes it has to be used as a weapon to fight it from within like many dalit outfits and intellectuals across the country have been doing for decades now.
What the anti-reservation brigade doesn't understand is that for an upper caste-born, her caste is a social asset and investment which would give her more visibility and opportunities in society whereas it's the opposite to those placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. For the latter section, caste is a trap from which they can't escape even if they try to keep themselves away from it. In such circumstances, they have to make use of their caste identity as a political tool to organize and get the opportunities they are likely to be denied in spite of the constitution's promises.
Reservation is the most effective way to fight caste system because it uplifts the downtrodden and offers them visibility in fields like education and politics which were inaccessible for the lower castes for centuries. The very fact that our political parties, including the communists, have not been willing to field non-dalits in general seats in the polls alone prove why caste-based reservation in elections needs to prevail. The MLAs whom Kummanam wants to be out of the assembly are the few from the lower strata of the society who got a chance to be a part of the government machinery. What was the CPM, or any party for that matter, supposed to do during polls? Not to field candidates in reserved segments?
By calling for their resignation, as if it's the only way to prove the sincerity of the ideological stance of the CPM, Kummanam has openly declared his ignorance about the very principle behind reservation. If the BJP leader's aim was to expose the CPM leaders' double standards on caste system, he could have done it in a number of ways. He could have questioned the communist leaders who proudly keep their upper caste names as a tag, for example.
Kummanam's statement is a political mistake because he would have gone for a second thought before voicing his opinion in public had he remembered how tirelessly his party has been trying to woo the dalit votes across the country. The single episode is enough for political opponents to brand him and his party as anti-reservation and thus anti-dalits. This is at a time when the heat of a dalit-uprising in Gujarat is staring at BJP at the national level.
Kummanam should have at least remembered how badly his Nagpur boss Mohan Bhagavat's comments calling for a rethink on the reservation system cost the saffron party in Bihar elections.
(The views expressed are personal)