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HOW DO WE SPELL MERIT?

Quotas And Queues

By Poonam I Kaushish

Quotas and queues are back on the political platter wherein our netagan are busy indulging in one-upmanship, populist bravado and mindlessness. Doling out promises of reservation like moongphalis to service their vote-banks. Underscoring, 21st Century India still remains the same: Quota is the all-seasons favourites!

See how our politicians continue to bask in reckless ad- hocism and announce reservations albeit in the garb of meting out social justice. Telengana has pledged 12% quota for minorities in Government jobs and educational institutions. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BSP Dalit messiah Mayawati have gone one step further. Both pitched for Dalits and OBC job reservation in the private sector.

Last year Haryana’s BJP Sarkar provided six% reservation for Jats and four other castes in Government jobs and educational institutions. And another 10% for the five castes in class 3 and 4 Government jobs and learning establishments. Happily, the Rajasthan High Court struck down a similar policy in the State. In Gujarat the Congress is busy trying to strike a quota bargain with Patel community leader Hardik Patel.

Raising a moot point: Are quotas the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric and harmony? How does it better the lot of the Dalits and OBC’s if a few persons get jobs? Has anyone assessed whether those provided reservation have gained or continue to lose? Said a former Chairman of the National Commission on Backward Classes, “the politicians have converted reservation into a circus”.

Whatever happened to merit and excellence? Is it fair that a meritorious person is denied admission or a job because his quota is full? Where do they head? Does it make sense if someone with 90% in engineering sells medicines while a Dalit with 40% becomes a doctor, thanks to reservation? What purposes does reservation serve when an officer is unable to cope with the decision-making process?

Is reservation an end in itself? How will the Government respond if each caste begins to complain of non-representation in Parties or Government departments? When does backwardness supercede equality assured by our Constitution? How is the Government going to avoid reverse discrimination?

Importantly, why do the champions of Reservation Raj never talk about reserving 50% seats in Parliament and State Legislatures for SCs, STs and OBCs? And how about having at least 27% reserved ministerial posts? Answer? Our leaders don’t want to slice their cake. After all, politics is all about conning the electorate, skimming their votes with ‘feel good’ populism and sound bites.

Alas, over the years our netagan have made quotas into a political milch cow. Merrily converting positive affirmation into vote percentages wherein social and economic upliftment is weighed on the scale of vote-bank politics. And merit is a dirty word.

That said, undoubtedly, the Government’s fundamental mission is to uplift the poor and have-nots, educate and provide them equal opportunities and better quality of life. But when education and job reservations are calculated on the basis of belonging to a particular caste or religion per se, it goes against the Constitution’s Article 15(1) of providing equal opportunity to all. More, it not only divides  people but also harms national unity and fraternity.

Clearly, the Mandal Frankenstein created by our polity has come to bite them. Worse, given the level of dishonesty and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system, no leader is willing to look us in the eye and confess that we are the cause of this mess thanks to our fixation for self-satiation of vote-banks politics.

It was all hunky dory and still is as they merrily satiate their greed for power by continuing to reap a political windfall of over 70 per cent votes via reservation. However, all forget a time comes when caste-based quotas becomes divisive, self-defeating and could boomerang. By further dividing  people and widening India’s burgeoning divide between the haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, ground realities and make-believe sociology do not always correspond. Reservations by themselves will not transform village society whose social structure is built on an edifice of illiteracy and ignorance which in turn perpetuates an iniquitous caste system.

True, many backward castes families are poverty-stricken. But we need to realize that poverty exists in a family and not at the caste level per se. If one has to eradicate it, then all poor families belonging to a caste should be eligible for State privileges. Also, one cannot ostracize the poor belonging to other castes.

Moreover, the danger in imposing arbitrary quotas in the private sector is two-fold. One, deterioration in work culture which results in short-changing Brand India and two, jeopardize economic growth. Remember, India’s USP lies in brains, skills and expertise of its educated manpower. This, in turn, could lead to an economic slowdown and hurt chances of economic upliftment of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Alongside, lead to brain drain and disillusionment among students and workforce.

Time our leaders rise above mindless populism, petty politricks and cry a halt to quotas as they are detrimental to long-term growth. They need to think creatively about how to achieve the goal of putting everyone on equal footing. Merely having quotas will not spell excellence. Specially in today’s increasingly competitive global village.

Further, our polity has to deal with a savvy Gen Next between 18-35 years who constitute 50% population and believe in deliverables and achievables. They seek jobs on merit in an over-crowed employment market where the labour force is growing 2.5% annually, employment is rising by 2% resulting in increasing joblessness. Thus, none has given thought to the challenge of absorbing new entrants in the job market, 12 million every year and clearing the backlog. In this scenario where do quotas fit?

Certainly, social justice is a desirable and laudable goal. But it cannot be at the cost of nurturing mediocrity.  Pertinently, there is no place for double standards or Orwellian concept of ‘more equal than others’ in a democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Fundamental Rights provide for equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex. Let’s not fudge or forget this.

Consequently, our netas must call truce with their progenies as social justice and equal opportunity is not the prerogative of a chosen few. Already, caste-based quotas have become divisive and self-defeating. The Government has to end this evil of casteism which is eating into our democracy’s vitals.

Think. Suppose there are 70% reservations for communities of State posts and only 30% are unreserved, is this satisfactory vis-à-vis providing equality of opportunity? No. As Ambedkar said, “If you want different societies to come together, I think it is time that we decide that the use of the word ‘caste’ be banned in this country.” Adding, “Reservation too should be done away with because it becomes a hindrance to development.”

Time now for our petty power-at-all cost polity to think beyond vote-bank politics and look at the long-term implications. They must not be allowed to continue recklessly and play havoc with India’s progress. No longer will young India accept that power in privilege can be transformed through electoral competition into power in numbers. Else reconcile to becoming a nation of mediocrity! —- INFA

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