The development at the Manipur University, for long a state university, now a Central university, is to say the least, disturbing. The immediate diagnosis is, all the ugly passion, which has already thrown to the flames an important piece of infrastructure within the campus and caused indefinite suspension of classes, are a result of different interpretations given to the reservation norms in students admission as well as job recruitments by different parties. Till as long as the MU was a state university, the institution was following the state reservation norm which roughly corresponds with the demographic constitution of the state. But now that the university has been converted to a Central university, the argument is, it should follow the Central government reservation norm, which is also adopted by the University Grants Commission, UGC, to which all Central universities are affiliated. In 2012 however, the Central government, taking cognizance of the differences in ethnic mixes in different states, recommended the reservation norms in Central universities be adjusted to suit the states’ own norms, with a mention that this would be applicable to the 6th Schedule areas of Assam. However, this return to state reservation norms is to be only in intake of students and recruitments to lower category subordinate jobs. In higher category jobs, the Central norm would be retained.
The contest now is between those who want the Central reservation norm and those who want the state reservation norm. While the Central government recommends 7.5 percent reservation for Schedule Tribes and 22.5 percent in the case of jobs and 15 percent in the case of students admission for Schedule Castes, the state government norm keeps aside 31 percent for Schedule Tribes and only 2 percent for Schedule Castes. The tussle therefore is a little more complex than a straight fight between general category and reserved category candidates, for it is also very much a contest between different category reserved candidates. Without going into the finer alignments of different interest groups in this unseemly tussle, let us first and foremost recommend adherence to rule of law as a conflict resolution route. Under normal circumstances, MU as a Central university should have followed the Central norm, but the Central government as the university’s paymaster has in 2012 recommended changes to suit the state’s own norm. If there are disputes in the interpretation of the 2012 recommendation, it only fair for the court of law to do the interpretation, and this too has been done by the Manipur High Court, and its verdict is for MU to revert to the state reservation norm in intake of students and recruitment to lower category jobs. If those campaigning for the Central norm are unhappy with this verdict, let them challenge the verdict in the court again. Probably there are many wishing the reservation system, a mid-20th Century remedial measure for a mid-20th Century social ailment, be itself overhauled to suit present social conditions. But that angst too should be addressed and had rectified through the due process of democratic law making. This is what democratic rule of law is about.
As we see it, the 2012 recommendation makes sense, if the reservation system is seen in its letter and spirit. MU being a Central university, there will be applications for its higher paying higher category jobs from the whole of India therefore the Central government reservation norm is best suited. But for low paying subordinate jobs as well as intake of students, since MU is no JNU or DU, there will be mostly (if not only) local applicants, therefore state reservation norm which corresponds to the state’s peculiar demography, would be most fair. Let Manipur return to the rule of law. If a particular law is deemed as bad, let its amendment be sought, but till such a time the law is changed, there are more harms than goods in disrespecting the existing one. We cannot help being reminded yet again of the episode in Robert Bolt’s classic play “A Man for All Seasons” on the life of Sir Thomas More, in which More admonishes his young assistant William Roper when the latter proposed to physically tackle a wily rival when an opportunity arose. More asks Roper in exasperation if he would cut the law to get his way. Roper replies he would cut a highway through the law if it was to get at the devil. More then asks where he would seek refuge when all the laws in England have been cut and the devil comes for him. Manipur today it seems has no patience for such wisdoms.