Nothing is more sickening than when a political party?any political party?announces decisions intended to favour a particular class, caste or religion, just prior to election time. The least that we, the citizens of India, expect from politicians of every hue is some decency in public life.
One of the most detestable of politicians, V.P. Singh, started it all by pushing the Mandal Commission recommendations on reservations down our throats. Understandably the reaction was far beyond expectations. Now the Human Resources Development Minister, Arjun Singh has taken off where V.P. Singh left recommending an additional 27.5 per cent reservations for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in both aided and unaided educational reservations, raising total reservations to almost 49 to 50 per cent. This is not just scandalous: it betrays a fear to losing the next elections, state-wide or nation-wide. It must be that same fear that led the Administration to inquire into the numerical status of Muslims in the Armed Forces. Who does the UPA government think it is fooling?
The disease is spreading. In Chennai, first the DMK Chief M. Karunanidhi promises the moon to voters by promising 20 kg of rice per month to the poor at Rs 2 a kilogram. Not to be outdone Tamil Nadu'sthen Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa announces that she would give 10 kgs of rice free to the poor if her party was voted back to power. To make matters worse, film star Vijayakanth who is heading the newly-formed Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) has gone a step even further by promising 15 kg of rice free to the poor?and never mind if no one has tried to define who the ?poor? are.
What is evident is the sheer show of irresponsibility that seems to govern our politics. The Army leadership has rightly put its foot down on the issue of counting Muslim heads in the Armed Forces. And that is as it should be. That the UPA Government which boasts day in and day out of its supposed secularism should have stooped so low as to indirectly sponsor religious reservations within the Armed Forces should be a matter of condemnation.
The Army leadership has rightly put its foot down on the issue of counting Muslim heads in the Armed Forces. And that is as it should be. That the UPA Government which boasts day in and day out of its supposed secularism should have stooped so low as to indirectly sponsor religious reservations within the Armed Forces should be a matter of condemnation.
But what can one say of 50 per cent reservations in admissions to institutes of specialised training such as the IITs and IIMs? It is claimed by some that way back in the 90s, Tamil Nadu under the Chief Ministership of Jayalalithaa had enacted legislation increasing the reservations in educational institutions for the OBCs and SC/ST to an unbelievable 69 per cent, with hardly any protest from anyone. What is surprising is that no NGO or any expert body has made a detailed examination of how such high reservations have affected standards. Figures are not even available as to how many OBC and SC/ST students have availed themselves of the opportunities so generously offered to them. According to The Pioneer (April 11), about 1,000 seats in the Delhi University go unoccupied each year because there are not that many OBC and SC/ST students applying for admission and the quota policy does not permit students from the general category to fill the vacancies. This is crime worse confounded. There are apparently 43,000 seats in Delhi University, out of which 22.5 per cent seats are reserved for the STs and SCs which means that in any given year, some 8,700 seats are reserved.
Last year, according to The Pioneer, 8,700 seats were offered to this category in popular courses like B.A. (Pass) and B.Com (Pass) but some 10 per cent of SC/ST students just opted out for such courses. Elsewhere, all sorts of assertions are being made. According to M. Anandakrishnan, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University and southern regional head of the All India Council for Technical Education, ?There is no evidence whatsoever that the quality of education in premier institutions has deteriorated because of admitting students from the disadvantaged sections of society on the basis of the reservation policy.? His argument is that for every ten students admitted under the reservation policy there are at least 1,000 to 2,000 competitors in that category, which means that those who get selected from the reserved classes are the best from that lot.
And Anandkrishnan adds: ?In fact, the motivation factor among people coming from the reservation category is higher because they are mostly from the first generation of learners and are looking for upward social and economic mobility.?
This is a most misleading argument. In the first place, if a student from the SC/ST category is so good at his studies that he can match the talent of the so-called upper castes or elite students, then reservation is meaningless. In the second place why should it be presumed that only SC/ST students are highly motivated? Any student from whichever caste or class he hails from can be taken to be highly motivated if he is sitting for the entrance examinations for institutes like the IIT or IIM. Students?especially bright students from the upper castes?do not apply for admission to the prestigious colleges and pay lakhs of rupees as fees to pass time. And why should anyone presume that the so-called upper caste families are simultaneously wealthy?
Ask the banks which provide educational loans, about the economic conditions of the applicants: one would hear some pretty sad stories. To say that the top ten per cent of the students from the reserved sections have necessarily to be worthy of admission on that count is too flippant an observation.
Education at the highest level should be strictly on the basis of merit and not caste based. When the Constitution was passed, it was Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar who said that the cut-off point for reservations should be ten years. It is now sixty years since Independence and we are still harping on reservations as the ultimate mantra for social progress. This is self-delusion at its most blatant form. What calls for immediate attention is the universal availability of primary and secondary education, and a qualitatively different education that leads to self-employment that can in turn lead to rich financial dividends.
Arjun Singh is doing no service to the OBCs, STs and SCs, much less to his party, by his reckless and motivated move. It reflects poorly even on ourselves that we permit such atrocious concepts to be imposed on us in the name of helping the poor, the lowly and the dispossessed. To condemn the ?elite? as being anti-poor is to exhibit poor understanding of society and its intellectual segment. Intellect is not the monopoly of the rich even if the rich have access to institutes of advanced learning. Ramanujam came from a poor family.