The belief that the entry of young people into politics will dispel much of the cynicism and myopia associated with the profession has been belied in recent years.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, for instance, hasn’t exactly been a role model for youngsters, overshadowed, as he is, by his domineering father and uncles, Nor has Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister of Maharashtra, whose decisions on what the people should see in movie halls, or eat at home, point to his conservative and parochial outlook.

However, their humdrum orthodoxy is preferable to the crass belligerence and blinkered outlook of an even younger player in the political field, Hardik Patel, who has challenged the existing conventional thinking on reservations.

In the process, he has exposed his limited knowledge of the socio-economic scene. For instance, his misreading of his dwindling family landholdings from 40 acres in his grandfather’s time to the10 acres each inherited by his father and uncles and down to two in his own case has put him on the present agitational path.

He does not seem to understand that the solution to the plight of farmers lies in industrial growth, which can enable the cultivators to move from farms to factories, and not in reservations for the various communities in and public sector government offices – a flawed outlook which ignores the fact that not enough jobs are available in these sectors. A relegation, therefore, of the Patels from their present “forward” status to the backward caste category will not help.

There is little doubt that when he finally faces the reality of the dearth of jobs – it’s early days yet for him as a rabble rouser – he will call for quotas in the private sector as well, thereby ringing the death knell for economic development. Besides, Patel will also have to think of circumventing the Supreme Court’s ban on keeping the ambit of reservations within 50 per cent of the population.

He has already outlined a solution for this obstacle by urging the judiciary to remove the ban. He believes that if the judges can meet at 3-30 a.m. to hear a case on the hanging of a terrorist, why can’t they respond to the “genuine demand” of “lakhs of people” ?

But, these are not the only flights of fancy which characterize the political adventurism of a commerce graduate with an indifferent academic record – he scored less than 50 per cent marks in his Ahmedabad college. His main problem will be to reconcile the conflicting demands for reservations of communities such as the Jats and Gujjars of the Hindi belt, who have been in this field much longer than him.

Ever since the Jats muscled their way into the quota allocations for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in Rajasthan, the Gujjars have been up in arms with their demand for either a special five cent quota for them in this category or for the grant of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Adivasi status.

That they do not want a relegation to the Scheduled Caste (SC) category is understandable because of the taint of untouchability which is still associated with the Dalits. In contrast, the pre-Aryan social system of the Adivasis or original inhabitants of India, as the name implies, has no place for castes.

Apart from such issues, however, what is obvious is that the root of the unseemly jostling for space in the reserved compartments is, first, the country’s failure to advance economically under the earlier socialistic dispensation with its so-called Hindu rate of growth of 2-3 per cent. As a result, the spectre of unemployment continues to haunt every community, whether they belong to the upper or lower castes. Hence the call for reservations not on the basis of caste but economic condition.
And, secondly, it is not only that the rate of growth hasn’t picked as quickly under the liberalized regime as the government may have wanted – the present rate is seven per cent – but that whatever development has taken place has been in the capital-intensive sector where robots have replaced humans to a considerable extent on the shop floor.

So, the problem of joblessness hasn’t been alleviated.

It can be argued, however, that in a perverse way, Patel has drawn attention yet again to the merit vs quota system problem which the short-sighted political class has tried to ignore so far. His solution – although he does not seem to be serious about it – is to abolish the reservations altogether and let only merit prevail.
Although the politicians, intent on retaining their caste-based support groups, may not agree to such a drastic step even if B.R. Ambedkar had wanted the reservations to go 10 years after the adoption of the Constitution, a way out may be to actively implement the Supreme Court’s diktat on excluding the creamy layers from the reservations, for it is absurd to provide the benefits of the quota system to, say, the children and grandchildren of Jagjivan Ram or Mulayam Singh Yadav.