Ahead of the Assembly election, the PMK is negotiating hard with the ruling AIADMK for exclusive reservation for Vanniyars in government jobs and higher education. Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to note that in 2011, a move to recommend a 12% sub-quota for the Most Backward Community was shot down by members of the State Backward Classes Commission.
The exclusive sub-quota was mooted by Justice M.S. Janarthanam (retd.), then Chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission. The episode has been vividly recalled by retired IAS officer M. Rajendran, then the State’s Commissioner of Backward Classes and member-secretary of the Commission, in his memoir, Seyale sirantha sol.
It happened in 2011, immediately after the Jayalalithaa government assumed office. The members of the Commission included former Vice-Chancellors of the University of Madras, S.P. Thyagarajan and R. Thandavan [then a professor], professor D. Sundaram, professor V.M. Muthukumar and former MLAs K.R. Muruganandam and V. Elumalai. The recommendation was sought to be made just 10 days before the Commission’s tenure was due to end, Mr. Rajendran says.
“Justice Janarthanam told us that even though former Chairmen of the Commission, A.N. Sattanathan and J.A. Ambasankar, faced opposition from other members, it was the Chairman’s recommendations that the government ultimately accepted. But I told him that as member-secretary, I would not allow that to happen. If there is a law and order issue [as a result of the proposal], the Chief Minister will only question me. Then I expressed my dissent and signed against the recommendation; other members also did the same,” he says.
He recalls that the meeting was called at short notice at the Commission’s office in Chennai, but it had to be shifted to a meeting hall at a nearby hotel, following a sudden power cut.
“Four members travelled with me in my car and I explained to them the recommendation I had quickly read under dim lighting. I also told Justice Janarthanam that the move was not necessary, as the Commission had just 10 days left,” he writes.
However, Mr. Janarthanam reiterated his stand, saying he had taken special care to prepare the recommendation, and that it could be submitted to the Chief Minister the next day. Mr. Rajendran advised against it on the ground that a similar order for sub-quota, issued by the Andhra Pradesh government, had been struck down by the Supreme Court. The Chairman said he had gone into all details and requested Prof. Sundaram to sign his draft report. The latter too cited various court orders and said it was not necessary at that point of time.
“When I told the Chairman that the recommendation would turn the State upside down, he said it could be proposed as a sub-quota. I got angry and reminded him that he had rejected the request of the 24 Telugumanai Chettiyars on the ground that caste-wise census was not yet over,” Mr. Rajendran says.
Professor Muthukumar too was unhappy. Prof. Thyagarajan also supported Mr. Rajendran’s argument.
“I said that such a sub-quota would satisfy none. The community will not be satisfied with your recommendation and will demand more,” Mr. Rajendran recalls as having said.
Following this, all members signed in dissent. “I called the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s secretary and explained the situation. Then I informed the Chairman that his appointment with the Chief Minister had been cancelled.”