This paper reports on the economic and political consequences of reserving government and public-sector jobs for members of the Scheduled Tribes in the Indian State of Bihar. It also contributes to a more general debate on the system of compensatory discrimination that has existed in India since the 1940s, and which was made tangible for middle class Indians by the decision of the government of V. P. Singh (1989–90) to adopt some of the recommendations of the Second Backward Classes Commission (1979–80: chairman B. P. Mandal). The Mandal Commission report advised that a system of reserved jobs in central government could usefully be extended from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of India (roughly 15 and 7.5 percent of the population, respectively) to embrace a broader collection of Socially and Economically Backward Classes.1 In August 1990 V. P. Singh found it expedient to act upon Mandal's suggestion that up to 49.5 percent of all jobs in central government services and public undertakings should be reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

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