(Wrote this on March 30th. Publishing now without relevant editing as the basic argument still holds.)
A bandh has been called in Chennai to protest the Supreme Court's stay order on the implementation of the OBC quouta. The sponsors of the bandh, the ruling party coalition, (but soon we will have the opposition taking credit as well) has urged an immediate meeting of both the houses on ways to "overcome" the verdict. Yawn! So what’s new!
What is new this time is that the bandh is expected to be total, meaning buses and autos won’t ply and shops are also expected to be closed! Flights have also been canceled! It has been quite some time since we had such a bandh and that too over this issue at this time. Tamil Nadu has enough quotas for OBCs, MBCs and anything else in its admission scheme. Tamilians trying for elite institutions at the national level wouldn’t constitute a vote bank and people entering such institutions are quite unlikely to vote for the sponsors anyway! The craze is more for state colleges. The Papaan or the Tam Brahm, that Karunanidhi hated so effectively in his initial years, has anyway left the country in large numbers and is not a force to reckon with anymore, perhaps even in the IITs and IIMs. Then why all this sweat? Is it just a mere pre-emptive strategy so that the opposition does not cash on this issue?
Bandhs, today, are futile exercises in political gimmickry and nothing comes out of such impotent rabble rousing. If anguish is what you wanted to express you can do it in many ways, wasting half a business day does not help anyone. Also, what is really there to protest in this case? The Supreme Court Judges do not give a judgment based on their personal opinions and fancies. The fact that the Supreme Court has stayed the implementation of the Bill, implies there was something legally deficient or legally weak. And whosoever you may be you have no business to be on weak legal grounds. Therefore, if the pro-reservationists have to be angry with anyone it has to be the people who drafted a weak bill.So what really surprises me is: Don’t politicians realize that people are savvy enough to look through the charade? I am sure most people realize instinctively whatever I have said above. Paralysing daily life hurts the common man way more than he/she cares to “register” protest. Then why do they do it and think they can get away with it? I would blame it on the fact that most of the people running the show today are old foggies who cut their political teeth in the halcyon days of bandhs, morchas, fasts and bus burning.
I think it is time for fresh political thinking. Slowly the days of emotional, rhetoric driven politicians will come to an end. People want results and want them fast. Why? Simply because the tide of globalization is spreading quite fast.
To elaborate, an acquaintance of mine once snapped back in an argument that in a way Socialist India was better. Everyone was poor! He had a mediocre education and gets a mediocre salary and that was perhaps the ostensible motive for this remark. The lady, who has been selling vegetables regularly for the past ten years to my house, took a day off to protest foreign entrants in retail (They were actually protesting Reliance’s announced retailing initiative or something. That had been given a foreign angle!) The underlying fear was that as they were uneducated all these rapid changes would leave them unable to cope with the new order.
These cannot be dismissed as irrational behaviour. That would be doing a Marie Antoinette. The fact is these are people struggling to cope with rapid changes and uncertainties that globalization can unleash. It is a very valid concern and the vagaries of globalization are something from which even the highly educated may not be exempt. All the skilled labourers who lost their jobs in the
The writing is on the wall. When the NDA government fell with its “India Shining” slogan, the freshly formed UPA government smugly spoke of how they would address the growth imbalance and restore the glorious kisans back to their pristine glory. Now reeling under a record inflation and recent poll losses they are feeling the heat and must be thinking what Vajpayee and Advani may have thought.
I cannot tire of saying this. The greatest problem
“The Economic Pie is expanding like never before. However, a large section of society is out of its reach. The key to getting a part of this pie is education. However, education services are skewed, very badly in the country. Unless mechanisms are developed to split these economic spoils in a more equitable manner, and that too quickly, we are going to see more and more seemingly irrational moves”
This is the essence of the problem. How do we address educational imbalances? The key would be faculty quality. If there is such a gulf between the IIXs and the others why so, besides faculty? Lack of quality at the higher educational level cannot be addressed without looking at secondary school education. How to attract and keep good teachers at the rural level? Should there be a greater private initiative? (I personally think it is time private entrepreneurs in
Is education the only means of redressing this imbalance? What quick solutions can be formulated? What is this hype about microfinance? Will that do something here?
The OBC quota demand’s rationale too can be traced to this. If you note, the bill specifically seems to target the IITs and IIMs. The “other institutions” just seem like a politically correct tag. The common, unarticulated middle class sentiment is this: these moves are result of heartburn arising from the fact that the very forward castes that Mandal set out to screw, are cornering fat salaries and escaping abroad. I don’t really think so. The common man has little time or energy to hate. The fact is quality education in the country is extremely skewed and a small advantaged section seems to be repeatedly cornering it.
The notion of merit is a tricky one. True, the entrance exams to the IITs and the IIMs may ensure merit but the argument is whether the definition of merit itself equitable. This is just what the anti-reservationists never seem to get. By giving the "merit argument" you fall into te very same trap that the pro-reservationist lay for you. Now the latter would go back and say, "Look, I told you! As long as we leave it to the forward classes they will ask questions that is favourable for their way of thinking, define that as merit and continue repressing us!"
I have always believed that the key argument in the OBC quota bill is not the "merit argument", but rather the appalling lack of statistics, monitoring and feedback in the "Reservation" approach. Does the government know how many students falling under the OBC category are there in the IITs presently? There is no way they would have known that, simply because the IITs have not been asking that question till now. Then shouldn’t that have been found out first? This is an elementary question which I am sure would have struck a fifteen year old kid had it been assigned to solve this problem. Perhaps, there are 20% OBCs in the IITs and IIMs already and left alone the number may reach 27% in due time.
This is where the judgment by the Supreme Court is welcome. The Bench has pointed out the undue haste by not coming out with determinable data. “It could not be explained as to why a firm data base could not be evolved first, so that the exercise could be undertaken thereafter,” the judges said. (Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/27037.html) They have also asked the Government to look at the experiences of the
The Bench has also articulated something that lots of people suspected all along. The OBC list has been drawn up on the basis of a 1931 census. 1931! Can you believe it 1931? Castes have been added but nothing has been deleted. Clearly this is bunkum! The government should have done its homework. The fact that the Bill was passed by both the houses, without this information, reflects very poorly on the lawmakers.
Another elementary question that should have been asked: Does any state have an experience of quotas for OBCs and what has been the experience? For that look no further than Tamil Nadu itself. A look at entrance examination cutoffs for seats to engineering colleges through TNPCEE show that the difference between the OBC cutoff and the General category cutoffs have been decreasing. (This is what I observed for 2002 and 2003. Couldn’t find the statistics online) Then the next question is: Has there been any trade-off vis-a-vis quality in achieving this as the anti-reservationists claim? Sadly, all this is missing. Instead one finds a stubborn/dictatorial “assertion” that OBC quotas are required.
While short sighted attempts may be made to “overcome” the verdict, until the essential issues of upliftment, empowerment and education are addressed, governments will continue to fall. And the day shall not be far off when the term ‘son-of-a-politician’ becomes the preferred expletive!