The Hardik Lessons
The emergence of Hardik Patel as the new leader of otherwise prosperous “Patel community” in the state of Gujarat is not necessarily a bad development for Indian democracy. He is demanding that the Patels, like other backward classes, must be given the reservation facilities in education and government jobs. He also says that his community will not opt for reservations if the system of reservations is abolished altogether. Many political pundits may dismiss Hardik’s demand as outlandish, but in my considered view, he must be appreciated for at least making all of us think on a long-needed debate on the system of reservations as such.
The basic idea behind reservations was that these were necessary to render justice to certain sections of the society—Scheduled Castes (“untouchable” as per the perverse practices that crept into Hinduism in middle ages) and Scheduled Tribes (those who literally led separate lives in forests, away from the mainstream). Accordingly, laws were made that the two communities would have reservations in educational institutions and jobs of about 23 per cent of the seats or posts. But then these laws were supposed to be temporary and valid for a period of 10 years until 1960. But they have been extended every 10 years since then; so much so that now it is unthinkable that they will ever cease to function, not after even 1000 years if the prevailing political trends are any indication.
Subsequently, the intermediate castes pushed their cases through their increased representations in the Parliament and under the so-called slogan of “social justice” literally grabbed another 23 per cent of reservations in education and jobs under the category of “backward classes”. In fact, but for the Supreme Court, they would have got a higher percentage—the Court has limited the quantum of all reservations at 50 per cent, making the rest 50 per cent open to general competitions. In fact, this directive of the Court has angered the caste leaders and they want the 50 per cent limit be uncapped. Besides, some states have devised novel ways—quotas for women, sports persons, physically disabled—to hike the reservation limits under their respective jurisdictions.
The reservation system has degenerated to such an extent that now there are demands for reservations for the minorities (particularly Muslims). Champions of quota will also like reservations being extended to the private sector. More dangerous demands in this regard include that reservations should be there not only for entering schools and getting jobs but also for quick promotions in jobs—that means a person getting job through quota will supersede his or her superiors effortlessly.
Results of the quota politics in India have been perilous in more senses than one. Quality and efficiency have become big casualties. So much so that I came across this story recently—a leading champion of quota politics, who is a Member of Parliament, went to a hospital for a checkup but insisted that he should not be checked up by a doctor who is in job through quota! In fact, that day is not far off when people will avoid doctors and engineers and students will not opt for courses taught by professors if they have come through quotas. Secondly, reservation-politics has resulted in paradoxical situations in the sense that most of the reservation-facilities have been grabbed or monopolised by those already in good jobs and positions (elites among the so-called discriminated—top bureaucrats and politicians), denying the facilities thus to those who are really needy in their categories.
Thirdly, we have politicians like Sharad Yadav who advocate that every community must have reservations in proportion to its actual number. Yadav’s perverse logic means that those who opt for smaller families should be punished not rewarded. It will also mean that talent and hard work are useless and those who have it need to be taken to task. Yadav’s thesis is that “produce as many children as you can, do not educate them properly but demand that the State gives them jobs even if they are not competent enough”. If this thesis is taken to its logical conclusion, it will be the beginning of the end of modern India. We should forget about all those projections and theories that India is emerging as a major global power.
Fourthly, there have been reverse discrimination aplenty because of the quota-politics. Genuinely talented people, many of them are economically much poorer than their counterparts under quotas, are denied admissions in schools and colleges and virtually out of the race for jobs. Because, all told, in a developing country like India it is the “State” that is the biggest provider of jobs and most important source of education (schools and colleges that are funded by the government). And here, more than half of the seats and jobs that are available go to those who enjoy reservation-facilities. Naturally, there are widespread resentments. In fact, the new phenomenon of Hardik Patel is a reflection of this phenomenon. As a prominent supporter of Patel told the press recently, “unless we come under reservation, our children will not get admission into the schools and thus be deprived of education”!
Thomas Sowell, a scholar at the Hoover Institute of the US, has proved brilliantly in his book Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study that affirmative actions, which begin as means to help the less fortunate, end up, in practice, helping the more fortunate. Sowell, an American Black, whose community has been the main target of the affirmative actions in the US, says that his conclusion is based on hard facts that he collected in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the United States, among others. The time is long overdue to start looking at what actually happens under this programme (affirmative actions), as distinguished from what people hope or fear will happen, he advises.
In Malaysia, the quota-raj started under the notion that ethnic Malays held relatively little economic power because of a colonial legacy under which the country’s more urbanised Chinese inhabitants tended to prosper. In reality, however, under the British colonial rule, there was free education to the majority Malays but the Chinese minority had to provide their own. The Chinese still completely outperformed the Malays, both in educational institutions and in the economy. But that is a different story. The point is that three decades of the quota system produced more Malay university graduates and professionals than the Chinese; but it did not produce performers or quality workforce. As a result, the Malaysian government announced in 2003 that admissions to the universities would now be by academic records, with computers determining who gets in and who does not, without regard to ethnicity.
The American example provides similar lessons. There is now increasing evidence that “students who receive large preferences of any kind—whether based on race, athletic ability, alumni connections or other considerations—experience some clear negative effects: Students end up with poor grades (usually in the bottom fifth of their class), lower graduation rates, extremely high attrition rates from science and engineering majors, substantial self-segregation on campus, lower self-esteem and far greater difficulty passing licensing tests (such as Bar exams for lawyers)”.
In contrast, studies have shown in America that these same students have dramatically better outcomes if they go to schools where their level of academic preparation is much closer to that of the median student. That is, Black and Hispanic students—as well as the smaller numbers of preferentially admitted athletes and children of donors—excel when they avoid the problem of what has come to be called ‘mismatch.’
In an article in the November 2004 issue of the Stanford Law Review, Professor Richard H Sander questioned the effectiveness of affirmative action in US law schools. The article presents a study that, among other things, shows that half of all Black law students rank near the bottom of their class after the first year of law school, and that Black law students are more likely to drop out of law school and to fail the Bar exam. The article offers a tentative estimate that the production of new Black lawyers in the United States would grow by eight per cent if affirmative action programmes at all law schools were ended, as Black students would instead attend less prestigious schools where they would be more closely matched with their classmates, and thus perform better.
Prof Sowell has also shown that after group preferences and quotas were banned in California’s state universities, the number of Black students in the University of California system has actually risen. “Minority students are systematically mismatched with institutions” due to racial preferences, where they underperform relatively to the student body. Had they gone to an institution without the help of affirmative action, to a less selective school, they would have received better grades and graduated at higher rates. Sowell, thus, argues: “When the top-level schools recruit Black students, who would normally be qualified to succeed at the level next to the top, then the second tier of institutions faces the prospect of either being conspicuously lacking in minority students or (2) dipping down to the next level below to bring in enough minority students for a statistically respectable representation. Usually they end up mismatching students. Once begun at the top, this process continues on down the line.”
Unfortunately, in India, we really do not have quality data to judge the effectiveness (mostly, the lack of it) of the reservation policy. But the fact that reservations have been there for the SC and ST categories since 1950, and yet there has been no perceptible change in their overall conditions speaks poorly of the efficacy of the idea. Whether it is the SCs/STs or the OBCs, most fruits of the reservation have been eaten by what is called the creamy layers within these groups, but even here most of those who have become famous are not because of their work and competence.
We must be clear that the quota-raj in India has nothing to do with affirmative actions. Elsewhere, affirmative actions are self-regulatory, not controlled by the state as such. And these actions recognise that there are multiple factors of exclusion and discrimination working in society (such as race, gender, economic factors, etc.) and that there are multiple approaches to tackle the problem. In contrast, in India, reservations focus, rather perversely, only on caste and community at the cost of addressing social justice. Instead of eliminating caste and religion as factors of social consideration, something that the Indian Constitution aims at, reservations in India actually perpetuate them. Secondly, in the rest of the world, affirmative actions aim at creating equality; but in India reservations are encouraged to create and legitimise, rather glorify, inequalities, as long as they fetch our political parties’ votes.
By Prakash Nanda