• Anuva Roy

The Mandal Commission

Inclusion by exclusion?

The world's largest affirmative action programme has been one of the most controversial laws implemented in an Independent India. Being the subject of discussion on the front pages of newspapers, dinner table conversations and political rallies, let us take a look at how the set-up of a commission snowballed to the decline of the Janata Party, self-immolation by students and shutdown of colleges.


1st January 1979- Headed by B.P Mandal, The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission(SEBC)was established in India by the Janata Dal Party government under Prime Minister Moraji Desai. The aim was to study the condition and representation of socially or educationally backward castes and recommend steps for their advancement.

31st December, 1980- The commission submitted its report stating that OBC (Other Backward Classes) comprised 52% of India's population. The report recommended that members of OBCs be granted reservation to 27% of jobs under the Central Government and public sector undertakings, making the total number of reservations for SC(15%), ST(27%), OBC(7.5%) to 49.5%

2nd December 1989- Congress lost and the National Front (a coalition led by Janta Dal and backed by BJP and Left Front) came into power. For a decade, no action was taken under Congress rule and the report was described by Rajiv Gandhi as a can of worms.

August 1990- National Front declared that they would provide 27% reservations to "socially and educationally backward classes" for jobs.

V.P Singh, the Prime Minister, announced the legal implementation in his Independence Day speech.

Criticism and Protests

August 1990 - dominated by protests and the shutdown of shops, colleges and schools. Government buildings were attacked, rallies were organized and shots were fired by the police.

The Opposition was articulated in two axes-

  • The Mandal Commission report was based on the outdated data of the 1931 census

  • Critics believed that reservations compromised merit.

29th September, 1990- Rajiv Goswami, a student in Delhi, became the face of Anti-Mandal Agitation after he set himself on fire. Hundreds of students followed suit and approx 62 students succumbed to their wounds.

October 1990- Indra Sawhney v. Union of India-Writ Petition was filed challenging the legitimacy of the Office Memoranda.

June 1991- National Front government had dissolved and Congress, under the leadership of Narasimha Rao, introduced economic criteria by providing importance to the poorer sections of OBCs at 27% and incorporated 10% reservations to the Educationally Backward classes of the Higher caste people.

Changes and Outcomes

November 1992- the Supreme Court upheld the 27% reservation for OBCs.The court rejected the additional reservation of 10% for poorer sections of higher castes and the creamy layer criteria was invoked.

2006- Following the Union Government's decision to implement reservations for OBCs in central and private institutes of higher education, a series of protests took place, the most notable of them being the nationwide strike by doctors and medical students.

April 2008- the Supreme Court upheld the law for the provision of a 27% quota for candidates belonging to the OBC in premier educational institutions. The "creamy layer" exclusion was applied to OBCs but not to the SC/STs.

October 2017- The Rohini Commission was set up to examine the distribution of benefits of sub-castes.

Key findings of the panel include-

  • 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to 25% of all sub-castes classified as OBCs.

  • Close to 20 percent of OBC communities did not get a quota benefit from 2014 to 2018.

February 2021- Due to the revelation of disproportionate representation among the reserved seats, Roshini Commission proposed to split 27% of quota into categories-


While the implementation of reservation continues on paper and is backed by many, it remains a disputed topic, with some saying that the architecture of reservations need a review, one which does not pander to populist views, while others outright reject the need for reservations with the rationalization that it snatches opportunities from worthy candidates.


~ Anuva Roy

Sources - Economic Times, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express