Sunday, August 27, 2006

Work your way to the top

By providing 27 per cent reservation to the OBCs in premier educational institutes like the IIMs and the IITs, the Congress has once again tried to rejuvenate caste and class politics. Nearly 15 years ago, then Prime Minister VP Singh attempted to do what the Congress is doing now: Appease members of the OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by providing them reserved seats in educational institutes and jobs.

Mr VP Singh failed to realise his objective and so will the Congress, or for that matter any other political party which plays caste politics. But then a rational decision in Indian politics has always been very hard to find.

IIMs and IITs are what they are because of their academic superiority and probably for their tough course structure. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they are certainly not meant for average and mediocre minds. Needless to say, reservation of seats in these institutions will affect the standard of academic excellence for which they have always been known.

It is not that reservation has not existed so far in educational institutes, but it has done little good to the historically wronged people. Over the years, many students belonging to the reserved categories dropped out because they simply could not cope with the academic burden.

For nearly 60 years, reservation policy has not been able to serve its purpose. Let reservation be based on economic condition of candidates. Is not a poor Brahmin, Kshatriya or a Dalit entitled to the same education and reservation? Any reservation, therefore, should be based on income and not birth.

So long as the class and caste divide is present in books and law, reservation will remain a Government policy and will engage minds in endless debates on its merit. Ironically, the concept of reservation was conceived to remove this very class and caste divide.

Ancient texts do talk of dwijas or the twice born who enjoyed high status in social hierarchy. Dwijas could, by means of education, qualify as upper caste. The law recognised such ascension. A newborn does not know what a Dalit is. He is made to understand the meaning as he grows up in subsequent years. India has many other problems that need to be addressed; surely caste and class consciousness must not figure in that list.


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