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Of reservation & retribution

By Arvind Lavakare
May 30, 2006 17:30 IST
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A law on 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Castes in the government's higher educational institutions being agreed upon by one and all of our political animals in Parliament, the yeoman strike by doctors will probably have ended by the time this appears in print.

The coming of the law is now certain, but having got an assurance from the government that the number of the general category of seats will remain unchanged, the knights with stethoscopes will ultimately have died with their boots and white coats on.

A lot of rage, a little Rang De

Never mind that they didn't get the quota rolled back; never mind that they didn't get a commission to review the entire reservation scheme; the fact of the matter is that our bright, young medicos, oh some of them so petite and pretty, have revived memories of pre-Independence day civil disobedience agitations.

They have sown those very old seeds again and it's a warning for those political animals who rule this country for votes, votes and more votes, for more power, more pelf and more prestige.

If the government does not produce the miracle of creating the huge infrastructure for increasing the total number of medical seats by some 50,000 and of engineering seats by 1, 40,000 by June 2007 when the OBC quota law comes in force, a tsunami could well hit these political animals because today's bright young generation saves all it wants on its computer.

The cardinal error that these brave hearts probably made was in not hurling Jawaharlal Nehru at Sonia Gandhi. Columnist Karan Thapar has cited that hallowed man's letter of June 27, 1961 to the chief ministers of this country.

In that letter, Nehru wrote, 'I dislike any kind of reservationsĀ…if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis we (will) swamp the bright and young able people and remain second-rate or third-rateĀ…the moment we encourage the second-rate we are lost...this way lies not only folly but disaster.' And, mind you, Nehru wrote what he did although reservation of seats and special representation were principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution from its inception in 1950.

Quota: SC issues notice to Centre

Probably no political historian guided the medicos and their supporters on Nehru's thinking on the subject. But it would have been a sight to see all Congressmen, from Arjun Singh to Sonia Gandhi, squirm when confronted by a placard, a poster or a banner bearing Nehru's warning in letters of red. Intriguingly enough, the medicos chose to first meet the HRD minister, then the prime minister and thereafter the President, but not Sonia Gandhi. Why? What was the message the young were delivering? That the Italian Maharani wouldn't feel their feelings? Or that they knew she just didn't care a damn for them?

What is not intriguing at all is the government's refusal to grant the doctors' rational demand for a judicial commission to review the entire reservation scheme before going in for that additional OBC quota.

The starting point for such a commission would have been data. And those data are hardly rock solid for the supporters of reservation. Consider the following:

As cited by Thapar, the National Sample Survey Organisation (1999) showed that 23.5 per cent of college seats were by OBCs. Then why couldn't they compete on level playing field with the general category students seeking admission in higher education institutions? By the way, NSSO showed that the total population of OBCs as a proportion of the country's total was just 8.6 per cent above their overall strength in colleges.

Separate studies by two Indian Institute of Technology directors revealed that i. 50 per cent of seats reserved for students belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories remain vacant ii. Of the students admitted through quotas, 25 per cent quit midway and iii. 10 per cent of the seats in engineering schools are actually occupied by Adivasis -- why, then, are they shy of competing on equal terms for higher education?

At a Kanpur medical college last year, half the Scheduled Caste candidates failed their final MBBS exams, while another 17 per cent passed courtesy grace marks.

Closing their eyes to the above old studies and to a new one, the politicians just rammed in the additional 27 per cent quota on the ground that the forward castes had enjoyed all the privileges all these years, and now it was their turn to let the privileges be taken by those whom they had treated so shabbily for so long. Retribution, so to say.

Prime Minister, I have a question

Studies of a separate kind would, of course, show that reservations get more votes for our political animals.

After the new law, the problem will be: since all these political animals have unhesitatingly backed the 27 per cent quota (Nehru's fears be damned), how can all of them get the votes of all the reserved categories? A split there is inevitable it seems and there'll be a zero sum game.

But trust our political animals to use their divisive imagination: 'Most Backward Class' and a 'Forward Backward Class' are options -- for quotas within quotas!

Meanwhile, Francois Gautier's article in rediff the other day reveals the latest India tragedy: the plight of today's Brahmins, once regarded as the Most Forward Caste. The Frenchman showed in figures how the relentless pursuit of reservations in our country has plunged the MFC to the position of what once our Dalits were as a class.

Call it karma or retribution for what the Brahmins did to the harijans and other 'untouchables' for years, but Gautier's articles brought on the recall of my own Brahmin father, born 1896.

The death of meritocracy

Studying on a 'freeship' at Mehendale High School in the insignificant Roha village (now a mini-town in Maharashtra) after the family was compelled to leave Goa under Portuguese rule, he survived on dakshina and free meals in return for pujas performed at others' homes, he matriculated (from the then prestigious Bombay University) and ventured out alone to Bombay, pursuing a career in accountancy. An article clerk in a British firm, he secured a diploma which was so rigorous as to be later recognised as a CA degree.

The poor and quintessential Brahmin boy went on to hold senior positions in famous Hollywood film distribution companies set up in India and retired as the chief accountant in one of them. I remember him wearing French linen suits with foreign neck ties, having a stock of half a dozen imported leather shoes and smoking an English pipe on his morning walks in khaki shorts even as he gave the best possible education to all his five children. But he never gave up his morning sandhya after bath, and continuing financial help to two uneducated brothers still struggling in Roha.

The time has come for today's Brahmins to emulate my father and scores of his kind in his generation. Merit and sheer hard work is one sure combination to beat the quota system. The alternative is that maxim: if you can't beat them, join them. Obtain a forged SC/ST/OBC cert in this kalyug of ours.

The reservation issue: Complete coverage

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Arvind Lavakare