Reservation in India

form of affirmative action

The system of reservation in India consists of a series of measures, such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and to enrollment in higher educational institutions.


  • Three things are noticeable about this political aggression of the Muslims.... First is the ever-growing catalogue of the Muslim's political demands. Their origin goes back to the year 1892....Accordingly the British Parliament passed in 1892 what is called the Indian Councils Act. ... Secondly, it was in the legislatures that were constituted under this Act that the principle of separate representation for Musalmans was for the first time introduced in the political constitution of India. The introduction of this principle is shrouded in mystery. It is a mystery because it was introduced so silently and so stealthily. ... It is a mystery as to who was responsible for its introduction. This scheme of separate representation was not the result of any demand put forth by any organized Muslim association. In whom did it then originate? It is suggested that it originated with the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, who, as far back as the year 1888, when dealing with the question of representation in the Legislative Councils, emphasized the necessity that in India representation will have to be, not in the way representation is secured in England, but representation by interests. Curiosity leads to a further question, namely, what could have led Lord Dufferin to propose such a plan? It is suggested that the idea was to wean away the Musalmans from the Congress, which had already been started three years before. Be that as it may, it is certain that it is by this Act that separate representation for Muslims became, for the first time, a feature of the Indian Constitution. ... Though, to start with, the suggestion of separate representation came from the British, the Muslims did not fail to appreciate the social value of separate political rights; with the result that when in 1909 the Muslims came to know that the next step in the reform of the Legislative Councils was contemplated, they waited of their own accord in deputation upon the Viceroy, Lord Minto, and placed before him the following demands :— ... (iv) The number of Muhammadan representatives in the Imperial Legislative Council should not depend on their numerical strength, and Muhammadans should never be in an ineffective minority.
    • B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • With this new list, there is no knowing where the Muslims are going to stop in their demands. Within one year, that is, between 1938 and 1939, one more demand and that too of a substantial character, namely 50 per cent. share in every thing, has been added to it. In this catalogue of new demands there are some which on the face of them are extravagant and impossible, if not irresponsible. As an instance, one may refer to the demand for fifty-fifty and the demand for the recognition of Urdu as the national language of India. In 1929, the Muslims insisted that in allotting seats in Legislatures, a majority shall not be reduced to a minority or equality. This principle, enunciated by themselves, it is now demanded, shall be abandoned and a majority shall be reduced to equality. The Muslims in 1929 admitted that the other minorities required protection and that they must have it in the same manner as the Muslims. The only distinction made between the Muslims and other minorities was as to the extent of the protection. The Muslims claimed a higher degree of protection than was conceded to the other minorities, on the ground of their political importance. The necessity and adequacy of protection for the other minorities the Muslims never denied. But with this new demand of 50 per cent. the Muslims are not only seeking to reduce the Hindu majority to a minority, but they are also cutting into the political rights of the other minorities. The Muslims are now speaking the language of Hitler and claiming a place in the sun as Hitler has been doing for Germany. For their demand for 50 per cent. is nothing but a counterpart of the German claims for Deutschland Uber Alles and Lebenuraum for Tthemselves, irrespective of what happens to other minorities.
    • B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • A few years ago, a Muslim spokesman [Imam Abdullah Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Delhi] had demanded that 20 percent seats in the Parliament and the State Assemblies should be reserved for members of his community. He also recommended that the remaining 80 percent seats should be filled only by those persons whose selection before elections had been cleared by the same community!
  • Reservation is not affirmative action. This is just blocking — just taking out things and saying this is for somebody, and not even caring whether those seats are filled or not. Give all the assistance that society can afford to enable people who are disadvantaged or handicapped today to compete with the others. Supposing they have poor nutrition. Okay, give them not one but three free meals in a day. If they don’t have a place to study, give them free dormitories. If they require extra tuitions, give them free tuitions. Their parents cannot let them study because they need two extra hands to earn Rs.5 a day. Okay, give them stipends to compensate for the incomes they might have earned. Give all the positive things. But when the competition starts, everybody is equal, and they must be able to compete with the others. Don’t lower standards. Throughout a person’s career, only merit, efficiency and performance should count.
    • Arun Shourie. : ‘Reservation Is Not Affirmative Action’ (Wharton, 2006) [1]
  • Panditji (Nehru) had rightly said that in that way (reservation) lies not only folly but disaster.
    • Arun Shourie. Arun Shourie against reservation in Govt. jobs (Star of Mysore, 2017) [2]
  • It is more than reasonable to forecast that before the next elections, as a run-up to them, the present coalition will introduce a Bill to extend reservations to the private sector as a whole.... When the matter comes up for vote, every political party will issue three-line whips to make sure everyone notices that it is as committed to reservations as the ruling coalition...
  • As for reservations not having been extended to members of religions that repudiate caste-Islam, Christianity, Sikhism-again, that is but make-believe. The Chairman of the Minorities Commission, my friend Tarlochan Singh, sends me a list of fifty-eight castes and of fourteen tribal groups Muslim members of which have been given reservations. Even those who convert to one of these religions, continue to remain entitled to reservation. The rule in Tamil Nadu is that if the name of the father falls in the lists of Backward Castes / Most Backward Castes / Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes, then, even if the person has converted to another religion, he remains entitled to reservations....
  • It is certainly not an unfair reading of Gandhi’s mind to state that he offered ‘hope that separatism would eventually disappear.’ This separatism had become an official part of India’s political landscape with the creation of the Muslim League in 1906 as a party advocating loyalty to the British Empire, along with special privileges and reservations for the Muslim community. But the Mahatma consistently mishandled the issue and helped solidify Muslim communal politics. By 1934, when the communal division of political power and government jobs was being consolidated in law, his Congress movement was reduced to looking the other way, or what Gandhi called ‘neither accepting nor rejecting’. The phrase of ‘neither accepting nor rejecting’ summed up Gandhiji’s position vis-à-vis the ‘Communal Award’, the plan to thoroughly communalize the legislatures under the Government of India Act 1935. The secular position would have been to oppose the plan outright and to insist on non-communal assemblies elected by a single electorate comprising all voting citizens, regardless of religion, who were free to vote for any candidate, regardless of the latter’s religion. ... Gandhiji took an unclear position which amounted to an unspoken acceptance of the communalization of the democratic process, a stepping-stone on the way to Partition. In particular, separate electorates meant that Muslim candidates needed to cater only to Muslim opinion, which encouraged them to take ever more sectarian positions. Regardless of any judgement of the political choices involved, Gandhi’s refusal to take sides on such a crucial issue showed a painful lack of leadership and strategic insight: fence-sitting is rarely rewarded in politics. Moreover, far from being neutral, it effectively amounted to acquiescing in the definitive communalization of the polity. ... It was neither the first nor the last time that Gandhi and the Congress accepted over-representation of the Muslim community or of the Muslim League. As we have seen, even a division of 100 per cent Muslim and 0 per cent Hindus in the projected first Cabinet of free and undivided India had been considered by Gandhi and Azad. The Congress always took Hindus for granted, and Hindus inside the Congress failed to put up a protest commensurate with the injustice being perpetrated. ...B.R. Nanda, an avowed admirer of Gandhi, who admits in Gandhi and His Critics that ‘from the acceptance of separate electorates in the Lucknow Pact in 1916 to the acquiescence in the Communal Award in 1933, and finally to the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1946, it was a continual retreat in the face of Muslim pressure.’
    • Elst, Koenraad (2018). Why I killed the Mahatma: Uncovering Godse's defence. New Delhi : Rupa, 2018.
  • A very good illustration is the next and very important demand of the Muslim communalists : a larger than proportionate reservation for Muslims in the army and the police. With every clash between Muslims and the PAC, we see secularists plead for the disbanding of the PAC, and the granting of reservations of the Muslims (the minorities, as they say), either in the existing forces or in a new anti-riot force, amounting to some 25% or even 30%. In other words, we see those who started the carnage in Bhagalpur '89, in Gonda '90, in Aligarh '90, in Hyderabad '90, being rewarded with secularist support for their demands, and more support with every riot. [...] In a rabidly communalist article in the secularist paper Mainstream (5/1/1991), N.A. Ansari demands : The Muslims must be provided at least 30% jobs in government, semi-government sectors including the military, the police, the administration and the judiciary.
    • Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • The separate electorates compelled the Muslims to vote communally, think communally, listen only to communal election speeches, judge the delegates their grievances communally.
    • W.C. Smith, 'Modern Islam in India': quoted in Arun Shourie. “Falling Over Backwards.” and Shourie, Arun (1994). Missionaries in India: Continuities, changes, dilemmas. New Delhi : Rupa & Co, 1994

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