Essay on the Politics of Reservation in India

None of them saw freedom as the attainment of an opportunity to grab positions of power, though many of them became leaders by virtue of accidents of circumstances and by virtue of the sacrifices they had made.

However today, fifty eight years after independence, Politics has become a dirty world, the haven of the corrupt and criminals, opportunists who are prepared to stoop to do anything to grab or retain power. But there are indeed exceptions because of whom our democracy this thrives.

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The parties release manifestos that promise the Possible on the eve of elections television set for every family, rice at Rs. 2 per kilo and not to be outwitted the HRD Ministry proposed 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in NTs and IIMs. What if the country is divided on caste and religious lines?

So long as you are assured of your vote banks, why bother about the integrity of the country? Reservation was introduced in education and employment for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes immediately after Independence and later for Backward Communities and much later during the VP Singh regime, for the Other Backward classes.

Neither the Government of India nor any of the States has made any real effort at evaluating and appraising as to how far reservation has made a dent in the socio-economic life of the so called marginalized and disadvantaged groups in society.

In Kerala, reservation was provided for the Muslim Community and Latin Catholics even right from the 1950s.

So much so that the then Kerala Chief Minister, Mr. A.K. Antony stirred up a hornets’ nest in 2002 by stating that Muslims in Kerala were more advanced than their counterparts in North India and that Muslims and Christians were more prosperous than the Hindus in Kerala. It was a bitter brew for many politicians in Kerala who wanted Mr. Antony to retract his statement though a few intellectuals upheld his views.

On the strength of Mr. Antony’s statement, will there be reservation for the so called forward Hindus who have now become backward? But will any politician or political party uphold any reality that will not fetch them valuable votes?

In a more pragmatic way, for quite some time, the just p a. Government broached the idea of reservation for the “economically backward communities” and a lone State, Rajasthan too mooted this viewpoint. Nobody knows the fate of this grand idea that metes out justice to all.

We, in India want every section of the community to get equal opportunity for education and employment and we strongly feel that none should be denied the right to a dignified life on account of his socio-economic condition caused not only by the inherited caste factors but also by such compelling factors as poverty that affects all.

Every citizen is entitled to the best possible basic education. This is not available at present though we have made the provision of primary education as a fundamental right. Enrolment is till poor and there is no let-up in drop-out rates as yet. School education still lacks the basic infrastructure — school buildings, availability of school text books and equipment at prices affordable for poor students, well-trained teachers and, on top of all, a curriculum that provides for a bright future.

In the era of globalizations, every child needs the kind of education that provides the base for his employability.

Reservation is not the panacea for all the ills that plague those who have not been able to reach the level merit required for admission in NTs or IIMs or other top level institutions.

The boys and girls who reach the top have not become brilliant overnight; the foundation of the legend power of these extraordinary brilliant students would have been laid right from the primary school stage.

Years of sustained effort could alone raise them to the pinnacles of excellence.

Can the government provide such kind of education right from below for every citizen — the SCs, STs backward classes, other backward classes and bulk of the poor among the so called ‘forward communities’? Then there will be no need for any reservation.

Are we phasing out reservation or making reservation a perpetual phenomenon till such time as the poor among the so called ‘forward communities’ become sufficiently marginalized to wage another struggle for reservation.

Most of the States in India have already reached the constitutional limits beyond which no reservation is permissible, according to court verdicts. Gimmicks of more reservation to have permanent vote banks run counter to meritocracy that has earned a niche for Indian youth in the global village.

No Indian youth, whatever be his caste, will be barred from entry on the basis of merit, to any of our prestigious centers of learning if the Government seriously considers a qualitative improvement right from the primary school stage. Let us go to the roots: once you take care of the roots, the plant will be healthy and will have durable, intrinsic worth. Let the Government take care of the child at the start and he or she can compete on his own terms.

Let every decision-maker take a resolve to separate education from the contagion on politics. The empowerment of our youth does not lie in the short-cut of dilution of merit by reserving the seats for the less meritorious on the basis of caste.

Close on the heels of the HRD Ministry’s move to bring a quota for OBCs, came the move by the Union

Health Ministry to provide the OBC quota in medical educational institutions under it, including AIIMS in New Delhi, PGIMER in Chandigarh, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi and JIPMER in Pondicherry.

The move brought out hundreds of medical students on to the streets of New Delhi during the last week of April 2006 when the students clashed with the police who used water cannons and teargas to disperse the students.

The HRD Minister, Mr. Arjun Singh has assured the students that he would discuss the matter of reservation with them after the Assembly elections.

The BPO Council in ASSOCHAM has pointed out that if reservation is implemented for admissions in IIMs, NTs, medical and engineering colleges based on caste and not on merit, the quality of graduates and postgraduates passing out of these institutions would not match the global standards. This, in turn, would shift outsourcing to other competing countries such as Brazil, China, Israel, the Eastern Europe and the South-East Asian counties. The jobs moving to Indian BPOs, KPOs (knowledge process outsourcing) and global R&D centers — in the areas of software development, automobile, pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery and biotechnology — would shift to our competitors.

Growing at an impressive pace of over 40 per cent, the BPO industry is well above $6 billion providing employment to five lakh professionals. According to ASSOCHAM, the best way to empower the socially and economically backward classes should be to provide sufficient financial aid to help them achieve their skills and faculty to compete with other meritorious students.

The Government can tie up with the coaching centers bearing part of the tuition fees for the student’s frown weaker sections. Once they are empowered to compete along with their peers from the socially upward class the social divide would become meaningless.

Hasn’t Corporate India a responsibility towards employing the backward classes in the private sector? A feeler in this regard given by no less a person than the Prime Minister of India has set in motion a debate on reservation in the private sector. The chief of Infosys, Mr. N.R. Narayana Murthy asks, “Are you going to have reservations in the Armed Forces?” Wipro chief Mr. Azim Premji insists that high quality of human resources is essential to meet global demand for services in the InfoTech sector.

Similarly, the new chief of the Confederation of Indian Industry (Gil), Mr. R. Seshasayee has resolutely opposed “mandatory reservation” for backward classes. Despite disenchantment with the idea of reservation, the Chamber has decided to set up a committee headed by the Tata veteran, Mr. J.J. Irani, to study the quota issue.

The issue of reservation in the private sector was revived following a reference by the Prime Minister during his speech at one of the industry’s conclaves in New Delhi on April 19, 2006, to the need to “broad base employment” and move towards “affirmative action” to include backward sections of society in recruitment by the private sector.

There is need for a national consensus on the burning issue of reservation as it affects all sections of the people — castewise, classwise — and because of the inescapable need for preserving merit at a time when India’s position in world economy and science and technology is increasingly being recognized. All along, we have left it to the politicians to call the shots.

None will disagree that politicians are more interested in their vote banks and the next elections. We have to go into the entire spectrum of reservation, right from the time it was instituted and prepare data Statewise and at the all India level to examine thoroughly whether reservation has secured the purpose for which it was introduced. Decisions taken without foresight and hindsight will ruin the country, engender rift in society and turn back the clock of progress we have achieved in different realms.

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