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A century is a long time in politics. The communal GO which provided representation for all communities in government jobs was issued exactly a hundred years ago and it had a big impact on politics and society. This GO enabled the empowerment of non-Brahmins in society and politics. Tamil Nadu which has 69 per cent reservation for the people belonging to the BC. SC and ST communities is a model for the rest of India in providing reservation.

The Justice Party which was in power issued the GO on 16 September 1921 with a view to extend the employment benefits to revenue department and to increase the number of non-Brahmins in all government departments. The GO also instructs the officials to come out with a report on January 15 and June 15 every year about the appointments of non-Brahmins in government jobs.

Before going into the GO, it is essential to know the circumstances which acted as the compulsions for such an act. The seeds of the GO are found in the Non-Brahmin Manifesto issued by the party in 1916.

The predecessor to the Justice Party which is known as South Indian Liberal Federation was founded by Dr C Natesan, TM Nair and B Thiagaraya Chettiar. The society demanded representation for non-Brahmins in education and employment opportunities and the secretary of the society P Thiagaraya Chettiar issued the manifesto in 1916.

The manifesto says: “Not less than 40 out of 41% millions, who form the population of this presidency, are non-Brahmins, and the bulk of the tax payers, including a. large majority of the zamindars, landholders and agriculturists, also belong to the same class. But in what passes for politics in Madras they have not taken the part to which they are entitled. They make little or no use of their influence among the masses for the general advancement of the country, in these days of organised effort, they maintain no advancement of the country.”

According to the 1912 census of Madras Presidency, about 55 per cent of deputy Collectors, 83.3 per cent of sub court judges and 72.6 per cent of district munsifs were Brahmins. Most of the Tahsildars, deputy tahsildars and head clerks at that time were Brahmins.

Some statistics are necessary to understand the justification behind the demand of non-Brahmins. Brahmins who formed three per cent of the population were occupying the posts in all the departments.

According to the 1912 census of Madras Presidency, about 55 per cent of deputy Collectors, 83.3 per cent of sub court judges and 72.6 per cent of district munsifs were Brahmins. Most of the Tahsildars, deputy tahsildars and head clerks at that time were Brahmins.

Among the students of Madras University, 67.71 per cent of undergraduate students were from the Brahmin community and they occupied 73.57 per cent of the seats in law. Their presence in medical education was lesser, but there was a clause which made Sanskrit knowledge compulsory for admission to medical courses.

The GO for representation of Non-Brahmins in government jobs was issued to alter the situation. This paved the way to give preference to Non-Brahmins, Muslims, Christians and Adi Dravidars in government vacancies. Before the GO was issued, it was passed as a resolution in the assembly. Besides directing the officials to carry out the government appointments as per the order, it also instructed them to convey the details of the appointments with their categories to the government.
The GO asked the district collectors, judges and the heads of various departments to submit reports to the government categorising the appointments into Brahmins, non-Brahmins Hindus, Indian Christians, Muslims, Europeans and Anglo-Indians. But, the GO was only on paper and another GO on communal representation was issued in 1922 to implement the order. However, the Justice Party government during the term was unable to implement the orders.

Only after Dr B Subbarayan assumed the premier post in 1928, implementation of the government orders on communal representation was intensified. S Muthiah Mudaliar, who was the Education and Customs Minister in Subbarayan’s cabinet, initiated strong measures to implement the orders and succeeded. Muthaiah Mudaliar’s name became synonymous with communal GO due to his efforts in its implementation.

A third GO was issued in 1928 for implementation of the communal GO. This meant among other things the allocation of 16 per cent of the posts to Brahmins. If there were 12 vacancies, as per the GO, five from the non-Brahmins communities and two each from Muslims, Christians (including Anglo Indians and Europeans) and one from the Scheduled Communities must be selected. The details regarding the order of preference of appointments too was given. If a person from one community refuses to join, the person from the next community in the order of preference can be posted, the GO stated.

After the Indian Constitution came into practice, a case was filed in the Supreme Court against the communal representation GO. When the Supreme Court scrapped the communal GO, an amendment was enacted in the Constitution to continue the reservation. Those belonging to the Dravidian movement claimed that the amendment was carried out only to protect reservation, but reservation was only one of the 14 components of the amendment which placed reservation as the fourth component.

In Tamil Nadu, 69 per cent reservation is being followed and a separate reservation for Most Backward Communities came into force in the state due to the protests of PMK headed by S Ramadoss. This led to the rise of identity politics in the 1990s when most of the other communities, encouraged by the success of Ramadoss, altered their caste outfits into political parties in the 1990s. But, their defeat in the 2001 assembly elections caused a setback to caste politics, but caste had become a major identity in Tamil Nadu politics since then.

The new circumstances forced all the political parties to allocate seats as per the strength of various castes in each constituency when selecting candidates for elections and to follow the same criteria in providing ministerial berths.
Though, Adi Dravidars benefited due to the reservation system, they were unable to rise above the intermediate castes to achieve anything in the political arena. When it comes to ministerial posts, Adi Dravidars are allocated only minor portfolios like Adi Dravidar Welfare and Social Welfare, though they formed 21 per cent of the total population in the state.

A demand for proportional reservation had emerged now. When, caste-wise census is carried out and their results are made public, reservation politics is certain to acquire new dimensions in Tamil Nadu.

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