Caste electorates, on the lines of the British Raj'snotorious communal electorates, may well be the next atrocity that the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA inflicts upon the nation in its search for a foolproof and captive votebank, as Congress braces itself for an inevitable mid-term poll. The writing on the wall is clear: the alacrity with which the UPA ditched the high level panel that was to cap the caste quota genie unleashed by Arjun Singh and announced implementation of 27 per cent OBC quota in institutions of excellence, proves that the HRD Minister had the prior approval of the UPA chairperson for his caste offensive.
Many believe this was part of a larger game-plan to dethrone Dr. Manmohan Singh and install Ms. Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister. This may yet happen, given Ms. Gandhi'sfailure to take a stand on the issue and to address the concerns of those joining the nationwide protest against it.
Instead, the pro-reservation Left and southern parties were instigated to support the measure, which was announced unilaterally to an unsuspecting nation, just as the Mandal Commission recommendations were. The Government did not pause even as two reputed social scientists, Prof. Andre Beteille and Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, resigned from the prestigious National Knowledge Commission over the issue. This makes the position of chairman Sam Pitroda invidious, as he also opposed the extension of reservations, and as things stand, Mr. Pitroda and other members may also have to put in their papers as the Commission has lost both its luster and raison d?etre after the resignations and subsequent reservations.
At this stage, we must ensure that no student is denied higher education on account of strained family circumstances; then we will be a society of excellence, neither needing nor caring for reservations. Yet, though the Government annually collects as much as Rs. 6000/- crores as education cess, the commensurate number of high schools have not been set up in the country.
Caste-based quotas in education or employment have failed to demonstrate their efficacy in uplifting dispossessed sections of society on a sustainable basis. They have created instead a new class dubbed as the ?creamy layer.? In recent years there has been much talk of excluding these sections (such as the children of politicians or bureaucrats or well off middle class SC, ST and OBC parents) from quota benefits, but the truth is that no mechanism has been devised to this end.
Quotas in institutions of excellence will not only compromise the quality of teaching as faculty struggle to cope with not-so-bright students who have entered via caste quotas, and are unable to cope with the work load. This will in turn affect the autonomy and innovativeness of these institutions. Worse, they will pit all castes and sub-castes against each other in a vicious competition for presumed advantage, at the cost of social harmony and long term national interest. Nor has adequate attention been paid to ensuring schools at secondary and senior secondary level for each and every village and hamlet in the country; for only then can a credible student base be created for meaningful higher education. At this stage, we must ensure that no student is denied higher education on account of strained family circumstances; then we will be a society of excellence, neither needing nor caring for reservations. Yet, though the Government annually collects as much as Rs. 6000/- crores as education cess, the commensurate number of high schools have not been set up in the country. Experts estimate that India needs a minimum of four lakh additional schools in order to educate every child; yet once these are in place, the goal of a fully educated nation would be achieved in just one decade. The sad truth, however, is that education like everything else, has been made into a political football. As Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta who resigned from the Knowledge Commission hinted, the OBCs cannot be considered as a deprived lot in the manner of the SC and ST communities. Indeed, by clubbing them in one category, the UPA is ensuring that Indian society remains trapped in a caste paradigm. Worse, by pretending that OBCs and SC/STs suffer from the same forms of backwardness, when the reality is that they are often at loggerheads with each other in rural India, the UPA is injecting a lethal new cocktail into the social fabric. New forms of inequity and arbitrariness are certain to arise from this witches? brew. The crux of the matter is that while the new 27 per cent reservation has forced the nation to focus exclusively upon the already inadequate opportunities for higher education, and the likely disadvantage to meritorious students from unreserved categories, the deeper malaise is ignored. Which is that if there are not enough schools in villages, where will the caste quota students came from? Obviously, here too, only the creamy layer will walk in, because the poor and deserving will be debarred by illiteracy, and the meritorious will loose out for having the wrong caste label.
Sociologist Andre Beteille, chairman, ICSSR, has warned that if we fail to create centres of academic excellence in science and other fields, buttressed by a system of scholarships for the meritorious and needy, India will loose its hard-earned edge in knowledge industries. Caste quotas reinforce identity politics at its basest level, to the detriment of the larger society. Prof. Beteille critiqued the cynical misrepresentation of recent constitutional provisions seeking to empower the backward classes by pointing out that ?enabling provisions? were wrongly being projected as ?mandatory.?