WASHINGTON: India's reservation system is under attack because its rapid economic growth has not resulted an increase in private-sector jobs, a noted expert has said.
"One reason why caste-based quotas have become a flashpoint is because India's rapid economic growth has not resulted in any great increase in private-sector jobs," said Anirudh Krishna, a professor of public policy at Duke University who worked 14 years in the Indian Administrative Service.
India's growth path has relied heavily on the high-tech services sector, staffed by relatively few highly-trained specialists.
All but 8 per cent of working-age Indians are currently employed in the informal sector - where people have no security of tenure, no benefits, no legal contract, and thus no protection against under-payment or arbitrary dismissal, Krishna who works on democracy in developing nations said.
He said there had always been controversy about caste quotas in government job recruitment and career advancement, which were instituted soon after India became an independent nation.
In recent decades, economics and politics have combined forces to worsen the controversy. Because the private sector has not been able to add to the new jobs as a result government positions are in greater demand than ever, Krishna said.
"More than half a million compete each year for the 100 or so positions in the elite Indian Administrative Service. In addition, in 1990, India's central government extended job reservations to a less well-defined category of Other Backward Castes," he said.
"The determination of which group qualifies as backward remains murky and is left largely to the calculations of vote-seeking politicians, rather than being based on clear-cut criteria that can be applied fairly across the board.
Ironically, in order to move forward, castes agitate to be declared backward," Krishna said.
"When the economic logic motivating individual caste agitators meets the political logic of party organisations, mayhem of the kind we are seeing currently in Gujarat will naturally result," he said.