The UPA government has developed a disturbing knee-jerk reflex at trying to use the legislature to undermine the rulings of the Supreme Court as in the case of the flawed Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act, and more recently, and more recently, the issue of reservations in private and unaided colleges. By pressing for legislation to force reservations on such institutions, they are not only violating the letter and spirit of the court’s decision, but choking the entrepreneurial effort that has created a huge national asset. The government cannot make the unaided and minority institutions suffer for its failure to provide adequate facilities for the underprivileged. If the central and state governments want to promote social equity, they can always establish new colleges and institutions.
In this context pseudo-revolutionary posturing and slogan-mongering is the least helpful especially since it harks to the era of failed equity-promoting policies of bank nationalization and ‘garibi hatao’. And of the Emergency, when in the name of the poor, the principle of executive supremacy, buttressed by a brute majority in Parliament almost destroyed the country’s constitution. It is only in 1980, after two decades of struggle benchmarked by the Golaknath, Keshavanand Bharti cases and the passage of the draconian 42nd amendment during the Emergency, that a sense of balance was restored. Courts accepted that social welfare laws were beyond challenge on the fundamental rights issue, while the executive and parliament accepted their right to review legislation.
The country’s future rests on two pillars—economic growth and social equity. Both are vitally linked to the rights of an individual, rather than some abstract idea. They matter as much to the rich as the poor; the entrepreneurs who establish professional institutions, or the students who want to study there. These militate against the exclusive promotion of social equity, the unworkable chimera our authoritarian communist parties seek. No fair minded Indian will grudge efficacious policies designed to give a leg up to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. But all sensible persons will also want some kind of an audit on whether the policies work, or whether they are merely aimed at cementing vote-banks. Balancing these concerns is the job of the political system—the judiciary, legislature and the executive—rather than getting involved in a needless confrontation.