New Delhi, June 10 :The intense media coverage of Mandal II may have succeeded in making this a national and emotive issue, but it does not seem to have made much difference to the established, pro-reservation, national mood on this subject.
Public opinion evidence of the last decades has always shown that the Indian public offers solid support to all measures of affirmative action including reservation.
It is no different after Mandal II, if one goes by the latest The Indian Express-CNN-IBN Poll conducted by market research agency AC Nielsen.
The popular verdict in this poll is 57 per cent to 37 per cent in favour of the government’s decision to extend quotas to higher education for the OBCs (the remaining 6 per cent did not have an opinion).
Given the over-sampling of urban educated and well-off respondents in this survey, it can be guessed that if all sections of the population were to be fairly polled, the verdict will be 70 per cent to 30 per cent for the quota.
This is exactly what it was six months ago when a national representative sample was quizzed on reservations in the CNN-IBN-HT State of the Nation Survey.
When asked to choose whether reservation in higher educational institutions will lead to equalizing of opportunities or a loss of quality and merit, 63 per cent opted for the former and only 34 per cent for the latter.
It seems that in this instance, the politicians and political parties read the public mood right. But the political class seems to have under-estimated the maneuvering space available to it for fine-tuning the system of reservation.
While the respondents in this poll had little sympathy for proposals for doing away with all quotas and reservations, they showed a clear desire that the system should be improved to target the needy.
Given an option, a two-third majority favoured reservations on an economic criterion rather than use purely caste-based criterion. The idea of giving reservations to the poor finds favour with a majority of the SC/ST and OBC respondents as well.
This implicit critique of the government could have become a major issue if the media had generated more light than heat. The poll reveals a narrowing funnel of information: 79 per cent had heard about this controversy, 61 per cent had heard about the government decision, 42 per cent knew it is going to benefit only the OBCs and 36 per cent knew the decision was to apply only to higher educational institutions.
Taking everything into account, only 14 per cent of the respondents really knew what this controversy was all about. The political calculations of swinging the “vote banks” also do not seem to have materialised so far. Only 12 per cent of the respondents said their voting preference is likely to be influenced by this decision.
The ruling UPA appears to have an upper hand in the calculus of votes: it is more likely than the NDA to retain its old voters and to snatch voters from its opponents. But these are very small gains and the sample of this survey is too small to arrive at any definite conclusions in this regard.
The poll was conducted between June 3 and 6 among 776 adult persons in and around five major metropolitan centres (Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Nagpur).
Half of the sample was selected from rural locations at least 30 km away from city centres. Quota sampling was used to ensure that the social profile of the sample reflected the country’s social profile: 25 per cent SC/ST, 40 per cent OBC, besides 11 per cent Muslims. A survey of this size and kind is subject to a 5 per cent standard error and, therefore, can only be broadly indicative of the larger population.
Therefore, the poll can be seen as the first broad indicator of the national mood after the government’s decision to implement the OBC quota in higher education.