From V.P. Singh to Arjun Singh the quota politics has turned a full circle. But we are yet to hear the last of quota politics, for there is still about 40 per cent left.
No politician in India can afford to oppose reservation. His career is doomed if he does that. This is not to say that we are opposing it either. Reservation has a historic rationale. And with over 30 per cent of the country'spopulation living below poverty line, the government has to intervene decisively. And with the caste, there is a social history of deprivation and discrimination. And we have to atone for that. For the creation of an egalitarian social order, all these factors need to be seriously confronted.
But neither V.P. Singh nor Arjun Singh is among the finest of social reformers that this country has produced. They are cynically crass politicians, devoid of the strength of conviction or popular support. This is precisely the reason why they rushed in where decent ones fear to tread. An arbitrary action to gain political relevance often backfires. Ever since Mandal-I, V.P. Singh is a spent force. Like Aswaththama of Kurukshetra, after Sri Krishna'scurse, V.P. Singh is condemned to a life without mission. Only time will tell what Arjun Singh has gained from his Mandal-II. Ironically, brazen politics with Mandal has proved the nemesis for Indian politicians. Not that the so-called forward castes mind if the so-called backwards get a few extra benefits. India is unique that there is no real clash of castes in our country. We share, we have a sense of belonging and we are interdependent, that no vicious politician can create a caste war. In spite of all the problems of caste, the Hindu society has remained united and one.
The reason is, above all the divide of caste and social exploitation, there is a divine unity running like a garland thread. You cannot play blindly a sectarian agenda on the national political mosaic. That is why no party is opposed to the principle of reservation per se. It goes beyond caste and region. Then it is for the leaders, if they are worthy of that sobriquet, to think beyond caste, rise above politics, and envision a confident, meritorious India, to help it emerge as a modern nation state.
Quota politics is old hat. It does not reflect the resolve of a resurgent global player. It is the baggage of a socialist past that philosophised and celebrated poverty, distributed indignity and divisiveness. The politicians used it to divide and profit out of mayhem and misery. We sympathise that for a fortnight, the best of the country'sacademic community has been agitating on the street. They have secured their position in the best of national institutions by sheer hard work and merit. In any advanced administrative system their protest would have shaken the conscience of the rulers. Not the UPA, for, as we have emphasised in these columns often, it is a coalition of the forces of darkness?all that is decadent and negative in our society. It cannot think of positive, proactive solutions, it can only work to fish in troubled waters.
So in Tamil Nadu we have a situation where over and above the existing 67 per cent reservation, the Chief Minister Karunanidhi proposed another round of 10 per cent reservation for Muslims and Christians in education and job. The repeated High Court and Supreme Court verdicts against the Andhra Congress government's5 per cent reservation to Muslims have not chastened the UPA counterpart in Tamil Nadu. We hear the Christian and Muslim groups already demanding religious reservations at the national level along with the OBCs. The communist states have already communalised the reservation.
Better opportunities, expanding vistas of community emancipation should be the priority of the state. More schools, better facilities, more job opportunities, increased investment in quality education, easy access to primary-level schooling and cheaper system of education?these are the areas where state should intervene.
Under the NDA there was a proposal to establish two dozens IITs and as many IIMs, across the country. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi as HRD Minister reduced the fees in IIMs, and increased the number of seats to make these elite institutions accessible to the less privileged. There was such a nation-wide brouhaha against it, with celebrity industrialists like Narayan Murthy leading the band, and the first decision of Arjun Singh as the UPA minister was to roll back the decision. Now what happens under his quota raj? He wants to increase seats, distribute them on caste and religious lines, discard quality without reducing the fees. And put additional tax burden on the already over-taxed middle class. Arjun Singh is a fossil of the seventies when quota, permit manipulations and scheming megalomania could pass off as political strategy. No longer the HRD mandarins talk of knowledge society, institutions of excellence or aggressive campus recruitments. All that we hear is the discourse of the pre-partition days where programmes, dipped in poison are one after the other, indignantly shelved under repeated judicial admonition. But the chaos in the academia keeps Arjun Singh in the news. Though he hardly attends office, spending most of the time in hospitals either at home or abroad.
These are the vagaries of populism gone amuck. Quota should become a tool for social engineering, creating opportunities and expanding avenues for the oppressed, really backward in the society. But for the UPA, it is a weapon for reverse social engineering. This has given a bad name to reservation threatening to stunt the progress of Indian youth.