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When Sardar Patel opposed reservation, asked Scheduled Castes to give up their “inferiority” complex

Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel
By Dr Hari Desai*
It is ironical indeed. Though Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was opposed to any kind of reservation in the government jobs and education as well as in the legislatures (like Mahatma Gandhi), even today his name is being drawn in controversies in the present-day agitations demanding reservation in India.
No doubt, Patel was very keen on giving due share to all the minorities in administration of free India. However, as a Constitution maker, he is hardly being discussed. While drafting the Constitution of India, his contribution as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Minority Rights in extending political safeguards was quite significant. He was assisted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, KM Munshi and Dr BR Ambedkar as members on the Advisory Committee.
The Constitution provides safeguards, such as reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the government jobs and education, as well as political reservations in Parliament and other Legislatures. In late 1990s, reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on the basis of the Mandal Commission recommendations was also implemented.
The concept of minorities and usage of the phrase Scheduled Castes has created considerable confusion in international treaties and law.
Munshi’s view in the Constituent Assembly in this respect was: “The ‘minorities’ so far as international treaties and international law is concerned, is only restricted to racial, linguistic and religious minorities. The Harijans, generally known as Scheduled Castes, are neither a racial minority nor a linguistic minority, not certainly a religious minority...”
He added, “To clarify the position that so far as the Scheduled Castes are concerned, they are not minorities in the strict meaning of the term; that the Harijans are part and parcel of Hindu community, and safeguards are given to them to protect their rights only till they are completely absorbed in the Hindu community.”
Since “untouchables” were deprived of equal status with caste Hindus for centuries, the provisions were proposed for the initial period so that they can be brought in the mainstream. Unfortunately, the reservation criterion has not only become permanent; even the caste Hindus like Brahmins and Rajputs have been agitating for getting included in the backward reserved categories to get the job and educational benefits!
Worse, all the political parties without any exception favour not only continuation of reservation but demand extending it for other castes and classes in order to garner votes.
Not only Sardar Patel, even Pandit Nehru never dreamed of such a scenario. Both of them were not in favour of reservation for eternity. At one stage, the Sardar and Munshi tried to convince Dr Ambedkar, who was law minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, and was given responsibility to chair the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, to give up his insistence on reservation.
Barrister Ambedkar, who was born in the Mahar community of “untouchables”, refused to budge. He even offered to resign not only his seat in the Constituent Assembly but also as law minister. Nehru and Patel could not afford a giant like Dr Ambedkar to resign, hence they never raised the issue again.
Patel visualized the so-called untouchables as difficult to distinguish. He said during Constituent Assembly debates: “There is no Scheduled Caste between us.”
While referring to an SC member HJ Khandekar, he added: “So those representatives of the Scheduled Castes must know that the Scheduled Caste has to be effaced altogether from our society, and if it is to be effaced, those who have ceased to be untouchables and sit amongst us have to forget that they are untouchables, or else if they carry this inferiority complex, they will not be able to serve their community.”
Patel continued: “They will only be able to serve their community by feeling now that they are with us. They are no more Scheduled Castes and therefore they must change their manners and I appeal to them also to have no breach between them and the other group of Scheduled Castes. There are groups amongst themselves, but everyone tries according to his own light. We are now to begin again. So let us forget these sections and cross-sections and let us stand as one, and together.”
Patel did not preach for the sake of preaching. He even followed what he believed. In Wadhwan, in the convention for the removal of untouchability, Patel joined Scheduled Caste delegates who were sitting separately in the Pandal.
Sardar Patel managed to convince the Muslims, Christians and Parsis to give up the claim for any kind of reservation for their community. When the Constituent Assembly was debating reservations, Dr HC Mookherjee (a Christian member and vice-president of the Assembly), Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Tajamul Husain (Muslim members), RK Sidhva (a Parsi member) and a thumping majority of the members wholeheartedly supported in favour of non-religious reservation, even when some members were insisting on reservation.
While Congress leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad preferred to remain neutral, Nehru expressed his opinion in favour of the Sardar: “Frankly, I would like this proposal to go further and put an end to such reservations as there still remain. But again, speaking frankly, I realize that in the present state of affairs in India that would not be desirable thing to do, that is to say, in regard to the Scheduled Castes.”
Nehru added, “I try to look upon the problem not in the sense of a religious minority, but rather in the sense of helping backward groups in the country. I do not look at it from the religious point of view or the caste point of view, but from the point of view that a backward group ought to be helped and I am glad that this reservation also will be limited to ten years.” He was referring to the issue of political reservation on May 26,1949 in the Constituent Assembly.
Dr S Radhakrishnan, who was to become India’s first President, expressed solidarity with Sardar Patel’s proposal for political reservation for a limited period in a poetic language: “With a view to develop a homogeneous, secular, democratic state, the devices hitherto employed to keep minorities as separate entities within the state be dropped and loyalty to a single National State developed.”
Radhakrishnan too considered a period of a decade enough for the reservation. Unfortunately, even today no party except the party, the Republic Party of India (RPI - Bahujan Mahasangh), headed by Advocate Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Ambedkar, favours scrapping of political reservations in Indian legislatures.
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*Senior journalist and socio-political historian. Contact: haridesai@gmail.com. A version of this article was first published in the Asian Voice

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