Playing with fire

Updated: Nov 18 2005, 05:30am hrs
The recommendation from the new National Monitoring Committee for Minorities Education on a quota for all non-Hindu communities in the IIMs and IITs is a terrible one. For two reasons. One, these institutions have worldwide recognition for excellence. This has been built over decades, by admitting students strictly on merit, without governmental or political intervention. We, in India, are so familiar with what happened in once-mighty universities, such as Allahabad, when the state got a handle on its running, with the best of motives. There may come a time when state and society in India are so evolved as to allow full trust in an unremitting zeal for excellence. Whenever, if ever, such an era dawns, it will not happen in this generation. The favourite answer of quota-advocates is to question the very meaning of merit, just as socialists question whether there is any such thing as market competition. The IITs and IIMs are themselves the best answer to this.

The second big reason for us in India to say a big No to faith-based quotas should not need spelling out. After 1947, we should have been chary in using religion-based group identities as a basis for policy. Every time we ignored that lesson, we have suffered: Ayodhya is one instance. There is a strong belief among Indians that using caste-based identities as a basis for engineering social change is still desirable: it is certainly sanctioned in our Constitution. The same thinking has led to an extension of the logic to religion-based quotas in education and jobs, as with the present proposal. We have yet to get the balance right on handling caste-based quotas: certainly, there is no uniform satisfaction on method or results. Dont add religion-based quotas to that simmering cooker.

If Muslims or any other group are finding it hard to access quality education, there are other methods to helpscholarships, subsidised tuition, subsidised remedial coaching and so on. Accountability for results in our government school system would itself be the best spur. Let well-functioning institutions alone.