‘I dislike any kind of reservation,’ wrote Nehru. Was he really against quotas?


“Nehru said, ‘I do not like reservation in any form. Especially reservation in jobs. I am against any such step that promotes inefficiency and takes us toward mediocrity,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in Parliament on Wednesday.

“It shows that Congress has always been against reservation. Nehru ji used to say that if SC/ST/OBC got quotas in jobs, then the standard of government work would fall,” PM Modi further said.

Replying to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, PM Modi said in the Rajya Sabha that the Congress should not preach social justice. He said the party never gave complete reservation to the OBCs.

Was Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister when a newly Independent India was grappling with problems of poverty and socio-economic differences, really against affirmative action?

Jawaharlal Nehru did say that he “disliked any kind of reservation”. However, there’s more to it.

The remarks of Jawaharlal Nehru quoted by PM Modi on Wednesday were actually from a letter dated June 27, 1961, where Nehru expressed his reservations about the tradition of caste-based quotas and privileges.

“This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group,” Nehru stated in the letter.

While expressing his ideological opposition to the practice of reservation, Nehru also advocated for a shift towards providing help on economic considerations rather than caste-based reservations.


Quoting from the letter, Nehru put through his stance on reservations and its results, and said, “I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in service. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards.”

The letter suggests that Jawaharlal Nehru believed that reservations could compromise efficiency and result in a nation that settles for mediocrity rather than striving for excellence.

“I want my country to be a first-class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost,” Nehru further added in the letter.

In the same letter, Nehru also underscored the need for economic assistance to backward groups and reservations based on economic criteria.

“The recent meeting we held here, to consider national integration, laid down that help should be given on economic considerations and not on caste,” the letter read.


The essence of Nehru’s perspective lies in the belief that education is the primary tool for empowering backward groups.

“The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities for good education,” he declared in the said letter.

While emphasising his government’s decision to provide “universal free elementary education” and “scholarships”, Nehru said, “This applies not merely to literary education, but, much more so, to technical, scientific and medical training”.

“I lay stress on bright and able boys and girls. I have no doubt that there is a vast reservoir of potential talent in this country if only we can give it opportunity,” Nehru acknowledged the need to give opportunities to those with the potential to excel.


In the same letter, Jawaharlal Nehru also expressed concern about the consequences of communal reservations.

“But if we go in for reservations on a communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate,” cautioned Jawaharlal Nehru.

While Nehru put forward his ideological opposition to communal and caste-based reservations, he also acknowledged the need for affirmative action in the newly independent nation.

“It is true that we are tied up with certain rules and conventions about helping Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They deserve help but, even so, I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in service,” Nehru added in the letter.

Published By:

Sushim Mukul

Published On:

Feb 7, 2024

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