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Column : Two-step India

Dec 19 2012, 00:43 IST
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SummaryWe want reservations in even promotions and yet want to be globally competitive.

When foreigners call India a land of contradictions, it’s not for nothing. The latest policy of reservations in promotions is a classic example of this, not just in term of the policy itself, but also in the manner in which it got passed in the Rajya Sabha. Ostensibly, the Samajwadi Party is opposed to it—only because more reservations for SC/STs cuts into its OBC vote bank—but it “walked out” in Parliament to allow the Bill to be passed, and at the same time maintained its independence by getting a party leader to state that the UPA was coercing Mulayam Singh Yadav to pass Bills he didn’t agree with.

That the Bill makes a mockery of reservations isn’t saying much. It is true, of course, the original scheme of reservations envisaged by the framers of the Constitution was for a short period of a decade, but we’ve done so much worse, each mockery seems just a minor step forward, ek dhakka aur de as it were. Reservations were for 10 years, we’re going strong at 65; BP Mandal used a sleight of hand to convert caste to class and NSS data shows that, thanks to the benefits got from reservations, OBC numbers have grown far in excess of what could be expected from natural birth rates—that means more people are declaring themselves to be OBCs to get the advantages the tag confers; reservations were meant for just entry-level college, we’ve extended them to even super-specialities with government and the judiciary besting each other in terms of who could stretch the envelope further (Arun Shourie’s Falling Over Backwards, the updated edition, has the gory details; and also see http://goo.gl/eMTQ3); reservations were for jobs, and now we’re extending them to even promotions in jobs. So what was meant to be a means to prevent discrimination has now become a positive discrimination—Arun Shourie shows in the case of an Assistant Engineer rising to become an Assistant Executive Engineer, the SC candidate gets the job 9 years before the general category candidate who is ahead by 30 places in the entry seniority list.

And yes, no politician sees any contradiction in staffing India’s bureaucracy with people who don’t make it on merit—Arun Jaitley has insisted on the merit criterion not being sacrificed, but even he’s not serious about it—and yet wanting India to be globally competitive.

What’s interesting is how such contradictions apply to almost any other field

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