Twisting Affirmative Action for Political GainThere is no denying the need for affirmative action for two main reasons: to do away with centuries of prejudice against a section of the society and to improve the lot of the downtrodden. It was precisely for this reason that India adopted reservation in jobs, education and legislature as a way to give the marginalized sections a voice and a means to provide them with honourable living conditions. Who was to know that the pie would get splintered in so many ways that a time will come most citizens of India, backed by petty, self-serving politicians, would consider themselves fit to have such reservations accorded to them.
By Sunil Garodia
Matters reached ludicrous levels, especially after the Mondal Commission opened a PandoraÃ¢â¬â¢ s Box by reclassifying the whole gamut of castes and tribes into small, splintered groups with fancy names. Now, any small and minor group that was broadly classified as included in a larger one finds some kind of specious differentiation and claims a separate reservation figure for itself. If the politicians incite these splinter groups to continuously raise their demands and this goes on ad nauseam, India will be reduced to groups of maybe 10000 people, backed by a local politician, holding the country to ransom.
Another side effect of this policy is the quality of people who serve us. By allowing both, age and qualification relaxation for the reserved category in government jobs and admissions to higher education, the government is allowing mediocracy to take over the country in all fields. People will say that this discussion has been done to death, but with a world that is largely technology driven now, there is no place for mediocre people. One is either up to it, or one should learn to rely on others who are there. One cannot, and should not, be entrusted with a job where his poor or lower than average knowledge and skill could hamper growth, even endanger national security. To let a particular section of society grow, we cannot allow others to stagnate.
Even the drafters of the Constitution knew that the affirmative action they envisaged was to be for a limited period of time. Any society that is unsuccessful in achieving results through decades of affirmative action schemes should ideally question the efficacy of the same. But in India, politicians have converted these schemes into vote garnering machines. They keep devising newer schemes to attract new voters, in the process building up a creamy layer that prospers at the cost of those who should actually get the benefits. Although things will change now once the direct transfer mechanism and self attesting of documents are in place and the citizen will not have to grease the palms of local officers or politicians, there remains a lot to be done.
For instance, the country should seriously debate once again whether merit should be sacrificed at the altar of reservations. Or whether caste, sub-caste, sub-sub-caste, gender, religion or region should continue be the basis of reservation or whether a new mechanism, perhaps based on economic backwardness, should be devised. These are the questions that come out of the recent Supreme Court order that has struck down the reservation handed out to the privileged Jat community. The Court has rightly castigated the government for it, and called it negative and retrograde governance. It also opined that caste alone should no longer be the basis for determining backwardness.
In the light of this, there should be an informed debate on how the country should move forward in this sphere. There is a need to balance several things and one sided policy, often dictated by political pressure from benefitting groups, should not be the norm. The government should take care of their living, health and other rights. Educate their children free from nursery onward with free meals, books and dress; provide them with the wherewithal to expand their horizons by providing free libraries and tuition classes, free transport to and from school and the like. Examine whether all this should be given to a child just because he or she belongs to particular caste or because his parents do not have the means to provide him with all that. Prevent the leakage of the same to the already pampered, creamy layer that has cornered concessions till now. But when it comes to higher education and competitive exams or government jobs, there should be no relaxation in the norms. Only then will the twin objectives of helping the marginalized and avoiding mediocracy will be achieved.