Edit & Opinion

ABC of Quality: Hooting For Mediocrity

In the ongoing deluge of pandemonium in Parliament over the Peagus spy issue, the Modi Sarkar is steamrolling various legislations in the din. And what better than falling back on the all-time favourite pastime of our netagan: doling out reservations like moongphalis to pander to their constituents as quota = votes is a sure shot combination for sitting on a Raj gaddi!

With elections to all-important UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal and Goa early next year the Government announced 27% reservation for other backward castes (OBCs) and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS) in the all-India quota for medical college admissions while proportionally increasing overall seats last week. Whereby the BJP can brag it is providing succor to the OBCs to woo them and lift them from the quagmire of poverty in the hope it nets electoral dividends. Notwithstanding that quotes don’t solve what’s wrong with education or provide better quality of life.

At one level, the Government has complied with the Madras High Court order last year and brings uniformity with the 2007 practice to reserve 27% seats for OBCs in Central institutions. Of the total number of seats in State Government run medical colleges, 15% are reserved for students pan-India. The remaining seats follow the concerned States’ reservation system. The EWS quota now takes total reservation to 60%.

Taken together, undoubtedly, the Government’s fundamental mission is to uplift the poor and have-nots, educate, provide them equal opportunities and better quality of life. Yet, experience shows that no amount of legislation has bettered the lot of the poor if a few get admission in educational institutes.

Undoubtedly, quota politics is such that all Parties and leaders suffer amnesia vis-à-vis asking even basic questions. How will increased reservation produce a better outcome? By imposing arbitrary quotas will it not nurture mediocrity? Is it fair that a meritorious person is denied admission? Where will he go? What will be the quality of education? Has anyone assessed whether those provided reservation have gained or continue to lose? Are quotas the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric and harmony?

Does it make sense if someone with 90% in medicine sells groceries while a Dalit with 40% becomes a doctor, thanks to reservation? What purpose does quota serve when a student or officer is unable to cope with the decision-making process? When does backwardness supercede equality assured under Article 15(1)? How is the Government going to avoid reverse discrimination?

Also, there is no place for double standards or the 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. Moreover, one cannot put a cap on human development.

Think. The pandemic should have made our leaders realize the existing abysmal shortcomings in medical education and of experienced trained doctors along-with the urgent need to increase the quality of medical professionals by upgrading medical institutions and setting up many top-notch ones.

Unfortunately, ground realities and make-believes sociology do not always correspond. Reservations is not the sole panacea for uplifting people nor will it transform the village society whose social structure is built upon an edifice of illiteracy and ignorance which in turn perpetuates an iniquitous caste system.

Students who are given benefits of reservations always have to struggle harder to keep up with others who come from varied backgrounds and who enjoy the benefit of their family and social environment. If a student’s fundamental foundations are weak their struggle to cope in higher education or in a particular field becomes even harder consequently they prefer to drop-out leading to a worse inferiority complex and resentment.

Succinctly, injustices arise when equals are treated unequally and also when unequals are treated equally. Two cases in point. According to Education Ministry statistics 48% of students dropping out of the IITs and over 62.6% from IIMs are from the SC, ST and OBC primarily, as they find the course challenging. Of 6,043 faculty members at 23 IITs, 149 were SCs and 21 STs, totaling less than 3% faculty members and none from the OBCs in most of the 40 Central universities.

Gujarat with a 30% upper strata has a higher demand for educational institution seats but with 60% seats reserved for SCs, STs, OBCs and EWSs it has turned the State into a fertile ground for periodic violence over caste and class hegemony in educational, political, social, and economical spaces by the upper-caste.

True, one would forgive netas their one-upmanship, populist bravado and reckless ad hocism if it bettered the lot of the downtrodden and poor. However experience shows that no amount of legislation has bettered the lot of the deprived if a few get admission in educational institutes or jobs.

The tragedy is that the Mandal fiend unleashed in 1989 by our polity has come to bite them. They have converted reservation into a circus. Alas, no study has been done to find out whether post quotas any effort is made to build up the morale of those given reservation and bring them into the mainstream. Nor, is there any data on how several seats are lying vacant in reserved quotas in various disciplines of higher technical education institutes alongside instances wherein a reserved quota seat has been filled by a general category student.

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 they are the cause of this mess thanks to our fixation for self-satiation of vote-banks politics. All forgot that quotas becomes divisive and self-defeating whereby struggle between backwards and forwards is more meaningful than Left and Right in politics.

Scandalously, even as our netas swear by Ambedkar they have conveniently forgotten his words against reservations and the hidden monsters. “If you want different societies to come together, reservation should be done away with because it becomes a hindrance to development.”

Clearly, reservation is not the sole panacea for eradicating poverty. Moreover, it is dangerous to indulge in stoking rivalries on the facetious reason that it to uplift the down-trodden. The design of affirmative action instruments must be such as to neither kill the incentive to excel nor enforce perceptions of inferiority. On both scores reservation per se fails.

Our polity has to comprehend that it has to deal with a savvy “I demand” generation aged between 18-35 years who constitute 50% population and believe in action not reaction. They seek parity in education and employment.  Our petty power-at all-cost polity must not be allowed to continue recklessly and play havoc with India’s progress. Our leaders must look at the long-term implications and end this evil.

They should remember that universalisation of reservation will mean goodbye to excellence and standards — a ‘must’ for any modern nation that wishes to forge ahead. Time now to rethink the entire reservation policy and stop the blind application of quotas.  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.


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Poonam I Kaushish

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