Vantage point

Monday, May 22, 2006

Insidious Poison

A lot of you mailed me the link to this interview of Arjun Singh on CNN-IBN. Yes, the man comes off looking like a completely clueless double faced and chicken-hearted moron, not willing to talk about anything at all. He had no answer to give to so many of Thapar's questions.

I was especially interested to hear about his response to the NSSO survey. Thapar asked -

the NSSO, which is a government appointed body, has actually in its research in 1999 - which is the most latest research shown - that 23.5 per cent of all university seats are already with the OBCs. And that is just 8.5 per cent less than what the NSSO believes is the OBC share of the population. So, for a difference of 8 per cent, would reservations be the right way of making up the difference?

The NSSO survey is one which rightly points out the concerns of many people, that the claims of the OBCs, as defined by the Mandal Commission, are nowhere close to those of the SC/STs, and just replicating the reservations by increasing the quota is wrong. Even avowed pro-affirmative-action thinkers have raised an objection to Mandal-2 on these grounds. However, Arjun Singh, like many pro-reservation thinkers (and bloggers) chooses to ignore studies that are inconvenient to what he is saying. His answer was as idiotic as could get -

Well, I don't know I have not come across that far.
I have said what I had to say and the point is that that is not an issue for us to now debate.

How brazen can a man get? He is crazily pushing this proposal, and I don't know what he intends to achieve. The flaws in his proposals are obvious. There are studies like the NSSO's which are being ignored completely.

The supporters of this decision are choosing to take on the easiest argument only. The argument of "merit". I personally find the merit argument irrelevant, presumptuous, and missing the basic point. The next time I hear protestors saying "merit is compromised" and their opponents saying "merit is not the preserve of the upper castes" I am going to ant.

And of course, in the defence of Mandal-2, standard arguments supporting affirmative action are forwarded. Either people don't understand affirmative action, or then they don't understand the nature of Arjun Singh's decision and the amendment. Tying the two together might work in arguing against a few inflamed bigoted idiotic anti-reservationists who use the same cliched merit argument. But it isn't going to cut ice with people who are raising real questions about the issue.

Avowed supporters of affirmative action and liberal thinkers Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre Beteille quit the National Knowledge Commission because of the intransigent attitude of the government in general, and Arjun Singh in particular, who said the NKC doesn't understand the constitution.

Mehta, who started off by clarifying that he is a believer in affirmative action and believes we need to think creatively of ways to increase the representation of the underprivileged in educational institutions, also said that claims of OBCs and SC/STs are of a completely different nature, and hyphenating the two is wrong. He further says

They (government) have violated four cardinal principles that institutions in a knowledge-based society will have to follow: they are not based on assessment of effectiveness, they are incompatible with freedom and diversity of institutions, they more thoroughly politicise education process and they inject an insidious poison, which will harm the nation’s long-term interest.

As a society , we focus on reservations largely because it is a way of avoiding the things that really create access. Increasing the supply of good quality institutions at all levels (not to be confused with numerical increase), more robust scholarship and support programmes will go much further than numerically mandated quota

Beteille, who supports affirmative action, but opposes Arjun Singh's move said

Affirmative action is based on respect for autonomy of institutions, it is based on trust, on the fairness of the admissions process. There is a vital distinction between numerical quotas and affirmative action. Affirmative action allows for socially more inclusive institutions and the natural process must be encouraged. Universities have taken the lead in becoming socially inclusive.

Their resignation is a big blow to the NKC which was created by Manmohan Singh last year ostensibly to sharpen India's knowledge edge and promote excellence in education.