a result, much of the gene pool of our society is wasted.
Sustained high growth can be preserved only if we include
all social groups in a modern, humane vision of an egalitarian
society where all sections are winners. There is a clear
and compelling case for strong affirmative action policies
to promote equity and opportunity and preserve peace and
harmony. Otherwise, violence will become arbiter of social
justice. Equity and social harmony cannot be delinked.
our quest for social justice and opportunities for all must
be combined with search for excellence. Clearly, in a modern
society competence and performance are critical for economic
growth, service delivery and governance. We need to devise
means of affirmative action which ensure high standards
of performance. Third, thousands of youngsters would never
have found dignity and opportunity without affirmative action
policies. While there are obvious distortions, the fact
remains that reservations benefited large sections, and
many of them performed creditably once opportunities are
provided. Equally, the benefits of reservation are uneven,
with families which prospered early through preferential
treatment enjoying a huge lead over the poorer, uneducated
the complexity of the issue and the unevenness of outcomes
leading to distortions, there is resentment on both sides.
The poorer SCs, STs and OBCs feel cheated by politics of
tokenism and lack of access to education and employment.
The other sections, particularly the poorer among them,
feel discriminated and resent diminishing opportunities
relative to demand. Given the enormous hunger for quality
education, the availability of seats in institutions of
excellence and the perceived fairness of selection are hugely
we promote equity with efficiency? Can 'merit' and 'social
justice' be made compatible? Can preferential policies be
taken out of the prison of zero-sum-game through win-win
solutions? Happily, rational solutions are available to
these dilemmas. Policy makers and media need to focus on
them, instead of indulging in feverish invective and hype.
Political expediency, social ostracism and rage must give
way to rationality, wisdom and long-term solutions. What,
then, can be done?
preferential policies must be coupled with incentives for
performance, particularly in professional courses and institutions
of excellence. This can be done by giving a head start to
candidates from disadvantaged groups. For instance, if 90%
is the cut off score for general candidates, preferential
groups can be admitted at, say 80% or 75%. This provides
motivation and incentive to reach a benchmark, and guarantees
uniformly high standards. The preferential candidates must
be given free, intensive coaching during plus two course
to meet these standards.
a 'Means Test' must be adopted for preferential treatment.
Among disadvantaged groups, reservations can be primarily
for families with low income, and those below a certain
grade in government or profession. And among other sections,
poor candidates can be guaranteed free tuition, and no student
will be denied higher education for want of money. A system
of scholarships, endowments and soft loans can be institutionalized.
there is a case for rationalizing the reservations for BCs.
Mandal Commission report is over 25 years old, and periodic
surveys and reclassification are needed for determining
groups deserving preferential treatment and identifying
the most backward classes (occupational groups) for special
there is need for deregulation and expansion of higher education
to suit the needs of a growing, large economy. Accreditation,
academic freedom, rating and transparency instead of licensing
and regulation will expand opportunities vastly. In addition,
state institutions must significantly expand capacity to
meet the demand for quality higher education.
school education and healthcare must be the corner stones
of governance. Tony Blair staked his government's reputation
and survival on the quality of education; George Bush was
elected in 2000 on the basis of his record in school education
as Texas Governor. In India, public policy, political discourse
and governance are largely divorced from education. Education
engages the attention of politicians and media only when
reservations become an issue. The appalling failure of state
in social sector is at the heart of persisting inequities.
those who argue that good school education is a substitute
for preferential treatment must recognize that the poor
and disadvantaged cannot be held guilty for monumental governance
failure. Neglected groups are hungry for good education
and opportunities. Even poor rural Dalits are spending Rs.200
per month per child in the hope of 'convent' education.
The nation needs preferential policies and good school education.
Meanwhile, we can design programmes to combine equity with