Nothing is more fundamental in the Constitution than equality before the law. This prevents narrow but powerful groups from getting special privileges. True, the Constitution also has other provisions permitting caste-based quotas in government jobs and education. But equality before the law is surely more fundamental than exceptions to this maxim in the name of historical backwardness.
The Supreme Court must focus on this core when hearing an appeal against the hasty constitutional amendment last week. It provides a 10% quota in government jobs and educational institutions for economically disadvantaged people, defined in such elastic terms as to cover over 90% of the population. In theory, the quota is open to all, including Muslims and Christians. In practice, the quota will go almost entirely to the upper castes who have historically been oppressors, not victims.
The court must strike down the new amendment for violating the basic structure of the Constitution. The Constitution clearly seeks an India free of historical divides like casteism, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender.