Caste trumps merit for political dividends in India

September 5, 2012

Passions are running high in parliament and the stakes are huge. The contentious issue of reservation is back to haunt Indian politics and it may well decide who runs the next government in the world’s largest democracy. Sparks were seen flying in the upper house on Wednesday when two MPs from rival parties came to blows during the tabling of a bill to amend the Constitution, providing for reservations in promotions at work for backward castes.

The issue, however, is nothing new. Reservation is a recurring theme in India’s democracy. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s embattled government seems to be returning to identity politics at a time when it is badly cornered, thanks to a string of corruption scandals, a ballooning fiscal deficit and low investor sentiment.

The move comes after the Supreme Court in April struck down former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s policy of a promotion quota in government service.

It also comes at a time India is seeing something of an upsurge in communal tensions that seem to have been stoked by political parties — witness the Bodo-Muslim violence in the northeast, which the BJP has linked to illegal immigration, a favourite fallback of politicians around the world when they are short on ideas and achievements. At the other end of the country, in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has been stirring sentiment against Sri Lankans.

While affirmative action is recognised in several countries and even gender quotas for woman have been debated in Europe, the multiplicity of religious, cultural, caste and class identities in the world’s second most populous country make it a complex issue.

Reservation in jobs and educational institutions for the underprivileged in a country where the caste system reduced millions to the status of untouchables for centuries is much needed. And almost all opposition to reservation comes from the so-called higher castes who believe it isn’t fair to them.

A promotion quota is, however, a different ball game. After getting a job, shouldn’t all employees be given an equal opportunity to learn, prove themselves and move high up the organisational ladder? As it is, the practice of promoting employees on the basis of seniority — the case with almost all government service promotions — is an archaic idea. Add to it the reservation in promotions and it becomes a heady cocktail of low productivity and mismanagement.

Having a promotional quota is like giving more marks to a student who had already been admitted to college on a reserved seat. If the premise of reservation is social justice and equality, special treatment at work carries the danger of widening the social divide between ‘low-caste’ and ‘high-caste’ colleagues.

India’s former untouchables, known as Dalits, have proven themselves in all walks of life. But is it not part of our larger societal responsibility to help those still burdened with jobs such as removing animal or human excreta with their bare hands.

Or are Indian politicians trying to say that the relatives of Dalits who have made it big — such as Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Mayawati and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde — need reservations for promotions at work?

Reservation begets more reservation; give it to one group and another begins haggling for it. Last year, the Jat community in Haryana went on the rampage demanding more reservations.

Playing the populist card to regain political mileage before the 2014 elections may or may not work for the ruling Congress but politicians need to understand that the principle of reservation, no matter how positive, carries a date of expiry. Keep using it and it may self-destruct, striking at the foundations of a secular India.

7 comments

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This will kick off a great controversy in India, creating another logjam of parliament. Probably the Congress has played the trump card to shadow all the controversies it has gone into already. This mother of controversy will have overture of election politics built on to it and polarize the society still further, which is already divided to a great extent.

It is highly prejudicial to make a remark although, a country has to come out of the shackles of its own mistakes someday. This is part of the greater subsidy policy of Indian Union, where in around 70 percent of public is taxed to feed 25 % of the weaker sections. No wonder, the weaker section of public have started considering it as their birth right; underlying fact being, they constitute the vote bank in democratic processes. They vote someone to win.

Without being critical, my opinion would be to stop the subsidy politics in a way implemented through a phased manner, though not try it in one go which may lead to a crash of the economic and social systems. We are 65 years from the day, when we provided subsidy for 10 years as a special consideration. We have failed in uplifting the backward class, eliminate poverty, Casteism, untouchability and rendered to extend the protectionism decades after decades, that is the irony….

Posted by Dillip_Patra | Report as abusive

Caste has always trumped merit in India. Otherwise how can one explain near complete control of judiciary, beauracracy and business by a few so called “upper caste”. For past many centuries it has been the so called dalits and backward castes who have been denied even basic rights – education, social equality etc. even when they constitute majority in our country. Given a dalit from Daltongunj and a Brahmin from Delhi, both equally educated – I would like to see how many would put their hand on heart and say they would like to employ the dalit. Even with reservation what percentage of backwards make into top positions. Lets’ not talk about a Meira Kumar here and a Shinde there – this is political parties’ compulsion for want of vote.
Even in most developed countries companies (not only state run) strive to have a mix of population in work force – Blacks, Asians, minorities, phyisically challenged. Only in India you can have a company constituted of Brahmins or Kayasthas and nobody would care a blink. But two Yadav CMs means “Yadav-waad”. How come Reuters and other media never write about injustice and inequality that backwards and minorities keep facing in our present modern society but immediately jump in to crticise “reservation”. I think it is time that upper caste get a taste of what they and their ancestors practised for many centuries.

Posted by vpsingh | Report as abusive

Well.. they can also give 10% additional marks for SC/ST/OBC in Board exams and +2 exams.. Also in MBBS entrances exams+ MBA exams etc.. atleast a SC/ST/OBC then can score 110/100 :D :) :P
I also demand reservations for CM, PM and President positions.. :D

Posted by sunilcse04 | Report as abusive

If we want india to march ahead than we have to eliminate inequality rather than promote it… Whatever happened in past higher caste drisciminating lower caste was wrong and concept of castism can be eliminated by reservation it can be only done when lower caste is self empowered bt this shouldn’t come by reverse caste discrimination and reservation in jobs although may help econmically bt this leads to hatred ,spite and devide btw diff castes which inturns devide the country…earlier our ancestor devided us on basis of caste and made upper and lower caste ,which was absolutely wrong bt now if we again devide us in reserve and non-reserved category than it will be wrong again and children had to pay 4 it and moreover two wrongs never make one right. If we want to remove caste system than we should have education. Lower caste poor ..or simply all poors in india should be given free quality school education . Bt this doesn’t mean reservation in college and job level there’s should not be any compromise with quality and educated lower caste can into these colleges own thier own ablity rather than giving reservation and hampering their moral and social status .we should provide them with basic needs and education once lower caste get educated they won’t second hand treatment and they compete with thier counterparts bt reservation not devude society again reserved and non reserved category bt also inbreeds hatred ,spite…and leads to inefficiency…thats why we still here abt caste because we are keeping alive in name of reserved category…only education can solve bt only school level after that it should be competetiveness and once lower caste educated than they can save themselve of old mentality indians . So in my view school education should free and financial asistance to all poors therafter bt yes educated caste can stand on their own as after getting education they can clear govt. Jobs paper and pvt. Cos don’t see caste only quality matters…. We should not make smae mistake as our ancestors did…and should devide us again

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

let us try this…
Make 4 categories- sc, st, obc & merit.
Then club together all the govt. departments, institutions and undertakings (wherever reservation made applicable). then divide them by 4 (categories).
then each of the 4 sets obtained implement policy of giving representation from each of the 4 categories (to maintain diversity) on seniority basis in case of promotions.
Keep the term of the representative postings for 1 year.
then one who was holding the post for a year replaced by next category person of course on seniority basis(in all the govt. bodies).
In case of any unfortunate event when the one holding the post made to vacate the post or post becomes vacant within a year, make the person from next category to hold the office for the remaining term of the previous person and then the actual term of 1 year.

I do not know the complications involved.
it might look silly considering the task of making it every year. but thought might be one of the probable ways to solve the issue raised against the quota in promotions…

Posted by prasannarb | Report as abusive

Aren’t we looking for equality? I am stretching a bit, but will not be surprised,if they raised these as well:

- Will this stop at promotion in govt jobs?
- Next time, ‘legitimate’ demand will be tax exemptions
- After that, special train fares, reservation preference or all together exemption from paying a penny
- Next, caste based traffic lanes on all major roads? Or caste based light on top of each vehicle?
- Free ride in Air India anywhere in India on production of certificate?

Is benefit reaching intended people?
Most people I have known, had come from well to do class, whose parents got govt jobs on qouta, themselves got admission in best colleges based on quota, again they got govt jobs on quota….now promotions!

Time to take up Guns for all others? New breed of representatives too do not look promising (Politicians).

Posted by SAjet | Report as abusive

Caste Gender Religion based discrimination and the incentives in the form of reservations there by are the bread and butter of India. Not to forget corruption which is the by word in India. This country is full of dolts who think need based and opportunity based sin and false power for survival, for growth and for prosperity in life is the only model of live. In India misuse, misdeeds is the only way to get some food make some money Whooooo…..
No matter how many raise slogans in public when it gets to forgo some caste based gender based religion based benefits they would not lose them and prefer to have them in private pssssshhhh. Y? Basically we are bunch of in capables with/out values & not following them in times of need and opportunity but prefer to raise our children by preaching basic values. Hypocrites.
Equality is actually in fact very unequal in India. Open competition is actually a myth, limited only to conservation.
On the other hand, rich and smug who think they might have values of equality forget how did they accumulate so much wealth & power & ability?
The path is as important as the goal….

Posted by valueScreation | Report as abusive