Sunday, May 28, 2006

No bread? Let them have cake!

An example often being bandied about on TV nowadays is that of the humble municipality sweeper, working away at his job through the day, a job that was his father's before him, and his father's father as well. (Strangely enough, a strict patrilinear relationship is often assumed in these examples.) Don't you want such a person to ever grow beyond his present economic status, to ever aspire to reach a greater control over his life? Or do you want his son also to join the family profession, so that you, and the remaining urbanized elitist 10% of India's population, can bask in the glory of "India Shining", you selfish casteist bourgeois titch you. Ah the shame, the shame.
Unfortunately, the above example of the sweeper is at best erroneous and in the worst case deliberately misleading.
This is because you will have made the mistake of confusing "economic" backwardness with "social" backwardness. This is exactly what the pseudo-liberal bleeding-heart armchair social-empowerment activists want, in an India dominated by instant SMS barometers of public opinions.

In a country like India, there is admittedly a significant overlap between these two indicators. However, the issue at hand is whether or not to extend quotas to OBCs, and, unfortunately for India, the UPA administration has decided to base its reservation policy on social indicators.

So why is this a problem? Let me explain. I'm from IIT Kharagpur. In the IIT system there are roughly 4000 seats available in the general category, and roughly 1000 seats available in the reserved categories. We can ascribe a ballpark figure of about 50,000 students applying for the reserved category seats. However, in 9 out of 10 cases, the ones who get in are those who, by the magic of targetted birth and blessed breeding, will:
a. Have studied in the top schools of the country, and
b. Have parents working in the Civil Service, or
c. Have parents working in a very high-paying corporate job or educational institution, and
d. Have access to the best preparatory educational material from the best purveyors of such condensed knowledge nuggets.

On the other hand, the student whose problems the earlier Mandal I reservation scheme was meant to address is barely affected by it. Why?
a. He stays in a village with little or no access to information regarding the IITs and their brand of technical education.
b. His academic preparation is of such a poor quality (courtesy government schools) that even with hard work he will not be able to clear the JEE.

By simple extrapolation, implementation of Mandal II will mean, for us IITians, allowing rich Jats who have studied in posh Delhi schools rushing to Rajasthan to buy fake OBC certificates for 500 rupees and walking in to IIT, with a nearly simultaneous decrease in peer-reviewed academic standards.
Are academic standards necessary? Our dear self-righteous intellectually-challenged JNU breed of social scientists would have you believe that such is not the case, that academic standards are subservient to the cause of social justice, and that in any case, the IITs were set up to provide quality education to the nation, not to some portion of the populace who have been chosen on some arbitrary basis called "Merit" .
Another barb that is directed to the casual thinking bystander in such a situation is: "Why do you resent the fact that some previously disadvantaged person now has equal access to what you were hoarding for yourself?"
Short Answer: Because, as the numbers will show, the previously disadvantaged person in reality is not very disadvantaged at all, unless you count studying at DPS RKPuram grounds for disadvantage. ("You poor little rich kid, you. Awwww.") A strictly caste-based numerical quota is open to so much misuse one shudders to think of them. In fact, I foresee a rich secondary market in caste certificates rivalling the BSE in a few years.
Long Answer: If the JNU jholawallahs would have paid the same attention to academics that they paid to the speeches of Sitaram Yechuri and Brinda Karat, they would have realised that the nature of the problem is that of product differentiation.
Let us step back a bit now and analyze exactly why the quota demand is being raised.
One primary motivation behind the imposition of secondary quotas is that hitherto non-productive sections of society have noticed that the benefits of the New Economy are passing them by, and are going to those who have worked hard to achieve what they have achieved, be they software engineers and enterpreneurs or ordinary BPO workers. Witness the cries of "everyone should have a right to portions of the cake" and "why should the cake be given only to some people; that's not just". Justice somehow magically appears during the cutting of the cake, but was conspicuously absent during its creation.
Let me repeat, the demand raised is this: the cake does not have to be created equally with everyone's contribution; however, once created, it should be split evenly, because, after all, it's not poor Meira Kumar's fault that she was born a Dalit (albeit Jagjivan Ram's daughter, but alas, even that cannot be helped), and would you deny her a piece simply because of her ancestry?
No, but I would deny it to her if she did not work for it. Ancestry has nothing to do with it, and does not need to rear its ugly head in this equation. That's a simple answer, folks, and sums up all the social justice in the world that deserves to exist.

Let us tear away the veils that distort the present conflict, for it is not a fight between the upper classes and the lower classes that we are witnessing, but a deeper fight between that small class of productive humanity which has existed precariously since the dawn of man, and is responsible for every episode of human progress, and that much larger class of bloodsucking parasitic non-productive second-handers, who have reached the positions of power that they hold by leveraging their identities and their grasp over everybody else's conscience.
For those yet not convinced, I ask a few simple questions:
a. Would Meira Kumar be in the position she is in right now if she weren't Jagjivan Ram's daughter?
b. Would Sonia Gandhi be in the position she is in right now, controlling the destiny of one-sixth of humanity, if she were not Rajiv Gandhi's widow? What about the entire Gandhi family?
c. What about Rahul Mahajan? Varun Feroze Gandhi? Sachin Pilot? Akhilesh Singh Yadav? Pappu Yadav? Ajay Kumar Chautala? Naveen Patnaik? What about Dayanidhi Maran? M. K. Stalin? H.D. Kumaraswamy?
Also included in this class are those social workers, media personalities, and intellectuals-at-large who have a deeper need for an underprivileged section of society to exist, since that is what gives their lives some semblance of meaning and direction. I include, with utmost prejudice, all jholawallahs of JNU in this category.

These are the people you need to fight against. For it is they who, by dint of sheer cunning and naked thirst for power, climbed up to the nation's top posts while the productive classes were busy working for their livelihoods and couldn't be bothered.
There are those of us who believe that the quota system is a just punishment for the middle classes who believed they had no stakes in the governance of India. If so, the punishment greatly exceeds the crime, because in the process of punishing the errant class, we are sacrificing the future of India.

Let me get back now to the point that I was trying to make earlier, i.e. why academic standards are important.
1. The reason major corporates flock to the IITs is because the latter produce batches of readily-deployable academically well-qualified engineers who are eager to work and generate out-of-the-box solutions for various problems. This perceived premium over the products of other engineering colleges is what creates this product differentiation, and is the main factor behind engineering majors paying large salaries to IITians. When companies realise that there is no longer adequate differentiation between the IITs and the rest of the colleges, the following will happen:
  • the pay difference will narrow down to nothing
  • the reason for the imposition of quotas on the IITs (share of cake which IITians have been eating 'alone') will have vanished
  • the backbones of institutes of which an entire nation was proud will be broken
2. The main reason why the IITs nurture a sense of success and enterpreneural drive lies in the way social life in their campuses are organized. Now, in all but a handful of the cases, and in fact precisely because of the ease with which they entered IIT, students belonging to the reserved category are prone to decreasing their levels of ambition, knowing fully well that their tag will take them through to any other institution in India. This serves to stamp out any latent feeling of success that they had engendered.
Barely 15% of IIT students enter by means of the quota system. When this percentage will be increased to 49.5%, when 1 out of 2 will have made it into the IIT thanks to the quota system, the corresponding drive for achievement will be severely dampened, and the number of IITians indulging in enterpreneural activities will steadily decay.
Why is this a problem? Because it was precisely due to the efforts of those IITians who aimed to achieve something on their own, such as Vinod Khosla (Sun Microsystems), Arjun Malhotra (HCL, Techspan), Nandan Nilekani (Infosys), and innumerable others that India faced an IT revolution. The ripple effect of this round of quota imposition will be felt 20 years down the line, when the current and future batches of standard-issue IITians would have started making their mark in the world of business, but who will not be present courtesy Arjun Singh.
This scenario will be fine as the IITs will still be serving the nation in the manner defined by Nehru, but that is not what we ordinary Indians had been hoping for. Though there will be greater diversity among the working population of the country, the next IT revolution will be short-circuited, and India relegated to the backwaters of the world economy. For an example of the future of India, one does not need to look far: The sweatshops of dollar-slaves producing Nike shoes are right here in the neighbourhood, inside the borders of Thailand and Cambodia.

I hope this scenario bothers you. What can you do about it? Here's a tip: Go to www.AntiReservation.Org and sign up for any rally in your city. Prepare opinions including the above points in all discussions that you have with members of your local community. Make it a point to write cogent and coherent letters/e-mails to all politicians and media personalities that you know of and can get an email address of. Network. Network. Network.
Work at it. This is the one chance we have, to save the future of the nation and offer our politicians the same choice that was once offered to Marie Antoinette. She, and her husband, chose wrongly. For, against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.