Indians are succors for tamasha and come election time trust our politicians to unleash their pet all-season freebies: reservation and subsidies. Doling them like moongphalis to pander to their vote-banks, as Quota = Votes, a winner combination for sitting on India’s Raj gaddi.
First of the mark was Prime Minister Modi who withdrew the contentious three farm laws after nearly a year of farmers agitation on Gurupurab. Obviously it has everything to do with polls due in five States Punjab, UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur early 2022 and India’s new President (July) and Vice-President (August). The BJP’s performance in Punjab’s civic polls and in Haryana and Himachal’s Assembly by-elections recently were dismal. In the unlikely event of BJP-led NDA losing or reducing its seats in the Presidential electoral college, numbers could be significantly altered.
Adding to its woes, the Supreme Court has put a spoke in Centre’s wheels providing 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) in educational institutions and Government jobs, by telling it to appoint an expert committee to re-examine criteria within four weeks providing income limit of Rs 8 lakh per annum to avail quota. It wondered if the Government was trying to make “unequals equals.”
Pertinently, the Government had announced 27% reservation for other backward castes (OBCs) and 10% for EWS in the all-India quota for medical college admissions while proportionally increasing overall seats. While reservation in jobs and educational institutions was introduced in 1993 the EWS quota was introduced through a Constitutional amendment in January 2019 ahead of Parliamentary elections.
The trigger then was BJP’s rout in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan Assembly elections dues to upper castes backlash and rising unemployment among others. The Opposition readily obliged as they too would benefit and could not be perceived as rejecting a Bill which benefitted EWS.
Certainly, the Government’s fundamental mission is to uplift the poor and have-nots, educate, provide them equal opportunities and better quality of life. Indeed, one would forgive our netas their one-upmanship, populist bravado and reckless ad hocism if it bettered the lot of the downtrodden and poor. Yet, India’s seven decades of ennui in uplifting them from poverty’s grime bowl shows no amount of legislation on providing reservation to myriad castes, sub-castes and deprived has bettered the lot of the poor, even if a few got jobs and admission in educational institutes.
Reservation is not the sole panacea for eradicating poverty. Moreover, it is dangerous to indulge in stoking rivalries on the facetious reason that it is to uplift the down-trodden. Instead, it has created both victims and fake winners. Whereby the mere accident of birth determines whether one is a winner or loser.
Bluntly, those born poor are sufferers and those born in upper castes are victors. Worse, no study has been done to find out whether post quotas any effort is made to build up the morale of those given reservation to bring them into the mainstream. Underscoring that quotes don’t solve what’s wrong with education or provide better quality of life. There are neither any welfare programmes for them or quality education.
Arguably, is reservation an end in itself? Not at all. Has anyone assessed whether those provided reservation have gained or continue to lose? No. Are quotas the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric? Never, as it only divides people and harms national unity. Does it make sense if someone with 90% in engineering sells medicines 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?
India of 2021 is not the India of 1989 where a young 18-year old student, Rajiv Goswami immolated himself in public. Today, the Mandal fiend unleashed by our polity then has come to bite. Our netagan have to realise that they are dealing with a savvy Gen X and Gen Z aged between 18-35 years who constitute 50% population and believe in action not reaction.
They seek jobs on merit in an over-crowed employment market where the labour force is growing 3.5% annually, employment is rising by 2.3% resulting in increasing 7.1% joblessness. Over 6000 had applied for 10 joint secretary jobs advertised by the Modi Government recently. Thus, none has given thought to the challenge of absorbing new entrants to the job market, 12 million every year and clearing the backlog. In this scenario where do quotas fit?
Undeniably, the ever-expanding reservation cake is indefensible. Increasingly, socially dominant groups always agitate for inclusion in reserved categories. Whereby, quotas have become a replacement for decades of under-performance in providing basic quality education to all. Consequently, this short sighted quick fix expansion of reservation has only resulted in hardening of narrow group identities. Bringing things to such a pass whereby electoral power politics has led to numerically dominant groups gaining at the expense of others.
Succinctly, injustices arise when equals are treated unequally and also when unequals are treated equally. Two examples: Education Ministry statistics show 48% SC, ST and OBC students dropped out of IITs and 62.6% from IIMs as they found the course challenging. IIT Guwahati holds the worst record, with 88% of its 25 dropouts hailing from reserved categories followed by Delhi’s 76%. Of 6,043 faculty members at 23 IITs, 149 were SCs and 21 STs, totaling less than 3% and none from the OBCs in most of 40 Central universities.
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.
Indeed, the time has come for our polity to think creatively about how to achieve the goal of putting everyone on equal footing. Merely having quotas in promotion or cramming down promotional quotas in jobs will not spell excellence. Towards that end, they need to develop innovative ways of making SC/ST/OBC/EWSs’ qualified thereby enabling them to compete with the general category. Another, is to make them occupy higher echelons of service. Else, it is like putting the cart before the horse.
In the ultimate we need a system that will neither punish victims nor reward winners. Our petty power-at all-cost polity has to think beyond vote-bank politics and quotas which are divisive and self-defeating whereby struggle between backwards and forwards is more meaningful than Left and Right in politics. Time Government rethought and reworked entire reservation policy and stopped blind application of quotas. If this situation is not corrected now, India will soon become a State of incompetence and mediocrity. The buck stops at Modi’s door.