On 7 August, he announced in the parliament that the report of the Mandal Commission, appointed by the Janata government (1977-79). The recommendations were that 27 per cent of jobs in the government services and public undertakings be reserved for candidates belonging to the ‘backward castes’, thus bringing the total in the reserved category to 49.5 per cent, as 22.5 per cent was already reserved for the Scheduled Castes or dalits and the Scheduled Tribes. The announcement was greeted with widespread dismay and anger. V.P.Singh did not consult even close associates before making the announcement. Biju Patnaik, R.K.Hegde, Yashwant Sinha, and Arun Nehru were among those unhappy with the decision for one reason or another. The left parties and BJP were upset that they had no clue about the decision.
The worst aspect of the Mandal decision was that it was socially divisive; it pitted caste against caste in the name of social justice; it made no effort to convince those who would stand to lose that they should accept it in the larger interest; it encouraged the potential beneficiaries to treat all those who opposed the decision as representing upper-caste interests, and re-introduced caste as a concept and identity even in those sectors of society from where it had virtually disappeared. Further, one would have expected that forty years after reservations were first introduced for Scheduled Castes in the Constitution, a serious debate and empirical examination of their efficacy as a strategy for social justice would be in order before they were extended to new sections.
Mandal was followed by a strong and violent reaction of the student community in North India. In a situation where large numbers of students look upon employment in government sector as a major career option, and one that it is still possible to avail of without using influence or money as recruitment is done via competitive examinations, the sudden blocking of almost one half of the seats for reservation, seemed patently unfair. This was especially so, as they recognized that many of those who would benefit were economically and socially their equals or even superiors.
Anti-Mandal protest took the form of attacks on public property, burning of buses, rallies, meetings, and discussions in the Press. Students were in the forefront, and were often supported by other sections of society, such as teachers, office workers, and housewives. Towns and cities in North India were the locale and police firing was resorted to in Delhi, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, and Kanpur among other places. From mid-September, desperate that protests were proving futile, a few students attempted self-immolation. Passions ran high, with those for Mandal condemning this as barbaric and farcical and possibly stage-managed, and those against, shocked at the trivialization and lack of understanding of the depth of sentiment on the issue. The prime minister's appeals to students to desist from violence and self-immolation went unheeded. What was once a major forum for dissolving of caste identities became for some time the cradle in which they were re-born. The protest ended when the Supreme Court granted a, stay on the implementation of the Mandal Report on 1 October 1990.
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