OBC reservation issue popped up on April 7th, 2006. And protests erupted in various academic institutions like summer blisters, and it sustained till in March 29th, 2007 when the supreme court stayed OBC reservation. So the indian public had a whole 2 years to debate over the issue before the supreme court settled the dust on April 10th, 2008, to evolve a consensus on its legality, and also its inevitability. But it remained as polarized as ever on the issue. The best example of polarisation is this :
Parliament had unanimously passed the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act 2006. And all mainstream newspapers opposed it, in their editorials and headlines reports. So essentially the fourth pillar of democracy stood horizontally opposite to the first. Even after the April 10th judgment, all newspapers grudgingly welcomed it with notes of caution.
So you are shocked and disappointed now.
Almost always “politics is the dirty game”, “all politicians are scoundrels” and the “media is the conscience-keeper” “self-righteous watchdog” of the democracy. So its not surprising to see that an anti-reservationists (sic) is left with a feeling that the parliament does not represent her. (the anti-reservationist is a misnomer actually because those who were opposing the new law were supporting reservation of those “island of oppertunities” for themselves and were against opening up to the other backward classes of India. So lets call them anti-OBC from now on). But there is a sad and twisted reality to this. The parliament is represented not by those anti-OBC yuppies(because the voters are not them) but it still represents and safeguards their interests. Its on the wall; in the budgets, economic policies, education policies. Even the measure that implementation of OBC reservation would not eat up their seats is just another example of that. But the anti-OBC is not convinced. She terms it a political hogwash.
In this situation where the media has already taken up a stiff position there was but little possibility to arouse a public debate on the issue. It did however, angry protests that left the health-care system in shambles. Barring the flashy 30-minutes program by news channels, and occasional op-ed columns in newspapers, everyone was left to his/her own prejudices about the subjects that deeply concerned with this issue, “equality”, “merit” “participation and representation” “democracy” and such. Fundamentally, the public sphere remained media-dominated. Since the media was partisan and had sectarian representation, the concept of public sphere-which is a liberal and populist celebration of diversity, tolerance, debate and consensus- was defeated.
Were there public spheres free from state institutions, corporate interests and big media houses , to shape the public opinion ? Considering the mobilisation of students across country, there should have been. Every institute had the students’ voice divided, so were the faculty on the issue. So there could have been debates. One wonders, if these debates were able to generate any consensus. In fact, hoping for a consensus over a debate is another extreme. Any issue has some undeniable facts-facts which could be called on to a debate and some theories-which are opinionated. The best outcome of a debate should have been facts and progressive ideas that make you uncomfortable with your opinion or jubilant over it. How many of the anti-OBCs actually went to the debate after learning the facts, and trying to focus on some most progressive ideas that the state was currently considering. Because, in AIIMS which was the epicenter of anit-OBC protest and those professional engineering and medical colleges the chief source of information was NEWSPAPERS, which hardly presented facts and logic that only substantiated their stand. So any fact-finding mission ended up doubly agitated. If it had not been so, the Supreme court judgment would not have shocked you. The Hindu, The Asian Age, The Indian Express said, the judgment was not surprising, I hope you understand that they knew what you didn’t.
There was an attempt to bridge the two poles in OBC reservation issue. It didn’t go as we expected, but its worth mentioning how it started and ended up.
(to be contd.)