Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Reservations and India Inc.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hinted at ‘quotas’ or ‘reservations’ or ‘affirmative action’ in his speech last night to industrialists at CII Annual Session. How did the media react to it? NDTV called it a ‘political’ issue and cautioned against the menace of ‘reservations’ entering Indian industry. NDTV also showcased two industrialists who opposed these ‘reservations’.

This is how Rahul Bajaj. Chairman, Bajaj Auto, responded: "I don't know if reservations are the ultimate goal or not but I can tell you that I am completely opposed to mandatory reservation.”

Now, what did Manmohan exactly say? Read the text below:

“I urge industry to seriously consider enhancing education and employment opportunities for weaker section and investing in their skill enhancement and promoting their employment in an affirmative manner.” "I urge you to assess at a firm level that diversity in your employee profile and commit yourself voluntarily to making it more broad-based and representative."

Did Manmohan talk about ‘mandatory reservation’? He urged the industry to promote lower classes voluntarily. Is this something wrong? Why do we elite Indians abhor the concept of ‘reservations’, ‘quotas’, or ‘affirmative action’ in all forms, and discard it right away?

I will tell you why.

When we got Independence, India was ripe with favoritism, nepotism, partiality, in the form of casteism, communalism, regionalism, and various other forms very unique to India. Most often, this treatment was in favor of the elite classes. As a government, India started its fight against all these discriminatory and preferential treatment. To achieve this- they brought objectivism as a weapon – by shunning privy purses to maharajas, enforcing land reforms to dispossess landlords of their ridiculously vast land assets, and for all other selections and admission, they resorted to conducting tests. For a while, this resulted in combating off the preferential treatment, but there were too many loopholes, and soon it was clear that rich remained rich through ‘alternate’ methods, elite classes could continue filling the colleges, institutes, universities, jobs, positions, despite the tax laws, land reforms, and reservations.

B.P. Mandal created a report in late 1970s to illustrate how lower classes of India remained low in spite of all the measures taken up by Indian Government. That is now known as a controversial ‘Mandal Commission’. Indian elite fought tooth-and-nail but had to accept it. But the elite and rich still held their sway resorting to many other methods.

One of the interesting aspects to this is the much touted and over hyped word called ‘meritocracy’. The objectivism that tests & entrances introduced was now pushed to an extreme form to be called as ‘meritocracy’, a convenient word coined especially to defend India’s elite in promoting their own kin. This concept is simple. The poor go to poor schools where teachers never show up. They have no text books and can’t go to the ‘cramming-and-mugging tutorials like rich and elite classes do. They said: ‘Conduct tests as you wish, and we will get in there anyway because we will definitely fare better than those lower classes, and the in the interviews it will our guys selecting our guys again.’ This was the new approach to continue the preferential treatment using the system- now you know why nepotism, favoritism, and partiality continued to be part of us for thousands of years- we always knew how to beat the system.

The new concept also gave certain legitimacy to promote one’s own creed- now, ‘fighting for merit’ appeared very noble, unlike old times. ‘Merit’ is considered one of the virtuous values. Even Indian Industry seems to take on this mantra. The elite classes in India now responded: ‘Look, we wrote the test as you asked, and we got better marks, so take us in.’ Reservations became anathema to ‘merit’, and in the same vein they equated this ‘merit’ with ‘progress’, and ‘competitiveness’. Now you have a completely different look at ‘reservations’. It is as archaic and barbaric as ‘sati’, an abhorrent concept that should be shunned right away to pave way for the newer and better concepts called ‘meritocracy’ and ‘competitiveness’. There are people out there who believe that students who are selected through reservations become poor doctors (though they have to pass through the same stringent exams as any other student). There are some professors at IIM & IIT who believe that ‘reservation’ students will decrease the quality of its institutions, though they would have to go through same tests, interviews and discussions as other students.

Why is it that US institutes promote diversity by taking up students with lower GMAT scores if they come from challenged backgrounds? Why are so many US companies proud that their employees have different ethnic and minority groups? Are they not promoting diversity through voluntary affirmative action and still be competitive with the world companies on every level? And for some reason you will never hear the word ‘merit’ or ‘meritocracy’ in that country. I wonder why!


  1. There are some valid arguments in your post. But I remain strongly opposed to caste-based reservation. It may have been good at its time; but it's high time we threw out caste and brought in reservation for low-income families.

    Also, can it be ensured that there is no corruption involved? Can someone be prevented from getting a fake certificate for caste or income?

    I may or may not belong to the elite class; that doesn't matter. I am from Tamil Nadu, which had upto 69% reservation long before Mandal Commission recommendations came into effect. I have been denied the chance of getting into the best institution in TN because of reservation. The actual culprits are my forefathers who propagated the horrible caste system a few milleniums ago. So, why am I being penalised?

    Whether it is college or company, go ahead and encourage people who have been denied the opportunity to come up in life. But, reservation is not the silver bullet.

  2. Reservation is immoral.

    Read more at:

  3. see also

  4. The truth about Merit in AIIMS. Please read an interesting article from Times
    of India

    Striking AIIMS docs live in a glass house by Akshaya Mukul
    *[ Tuesday, May 23, 2006 01:55:32 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

    NEW DELHI: The main grouse of AIIMS students - at the forefront of the stir
    against 27% reservation for OBCs - is that merit is being sacrificed at the
    altar of votebank politics. But they forget two things: 25% reservation that
    AIIMS graduates get in PG admission and the Supreme Court judgment of 2001
    that declares the earlier system of 33% reservation for them bad in law.

    In fact, the SC, while stating that 33% institutional reservation is
    "unconstitutional", agreed with the findings of the Delhi High Court, which
    had earlier set aside the reservation.

    The HC had found that "AIIMS students, who had secured as low as 14% or 19%
    or 22% in the (all-India) entrance examination got admission to PG
    courseswhile SC or ST candidates could not secure admission in their
    15% or 7%
    quota in PG courses, in spite of having obtained marks far higher than the
    in-house candidates of the institute." HC had analysed admission data over
    five years.

    The apex court also agreed with the HC that the "figure of 33% reservation
    for in-house candidates was statistically so arrived at as to secure 100%
    reservation for AIIMS students. There were about 40 AIIMS candidates. The PG
    seats being 120, 33% thereof worked out to be 40." That meant all 40 AIIMS
    graduates were assured of PG seats.

    Merit here was clearly being sacrificed, the study showed. For instance, in
    the January 1996 session, an AIIMS student with 46.167% marks - lowest for
    an AIIMS student that year - got PG admission.

    However, an SC student with the same grades was admitted but denied coveted
    course such as obstetrics and gynaecology. The SC student got shunted to
    community while AIIMS students easily won berths in prestigious disciplines.

    Twelve AIIMS candidates were selected even though they got less marks than
    the SC candidate who secured 60.33% marks. Similarly, 16 AIIMS students got
    admission to PG courses even though they got less marks than another ST
    student who got 62.16%.

    Basing itself on this study, SC said, "Institutional reservation is not
    supported by the Constitution or constitutional principles." "A certain
    degree of preference for students of the same institution intended to
    prosecute further studies therein is permissible on grounds of convenience,
    suitability and familiarity with an educational environment," it added.

    Preferences, the court said, had to be "reasonable and not
    excessive...Minimum standards cannot be so diluted as to become practically
    non-existent." In the similar vein, SC said, "It cannot be forgotten that
    the medical graduates of AIIMS are not 'sons of soil'. They are drawn from
    all over the country."

    The court reasoned that these students had "no moorings in Delhi. They are
    neither backward nor weaker sections of society. Their achieving an
    all-India merit and entry in the premier institution of national importance
    should not bring in a brooding sense of complacence in them".

    Extending the damning logic, the court said in preserving quotas for its own
    students, "the zeal for preserving excellence is lost. The students lose
    craving for learning."

  5. Sujai said -> The poor go to poor schools where teachers never show up. They have no text books and can’t go to the ‘cramming-and-mugging tutorials like rich and elite classes do.

    Good to see that you use "poor" instead of any caste here. It makes sense to give the same privilege/reservation to any caste if they do not have resources.

    I will give you an example. Two of my friends Sooraj and Manoj are both great guys. Sooraj goes to a "Government" school while Manoj goes to a private school. Sooraj's father makes one-tenth of what Manoj's father makes. Sooraj's father studies only up to metric and is thus completely ignorant of career choices. Manoj's father heads HR department of a public Indian company. Sooraj was born in a high-caste family while Manoj is an SC.

    Both sit for multiple entrance exams. Sooraj gets more than twice the marks than Manoj. Manoj still gets the branch of his choice in an institute of his choice. Sooraj has to take an admission in a "local" government college again.

    Who deserved reservation? Manoj has ten times more resources than Sooraj and on top of it is lucky to be born as an SC. Manoj is a rich and elite SC. I did not see two horns on Sooraj that Manoj did not have. Why this segragation? Why this stupid privilege based on which family you were born in?

    Are we going to increase our national income by 33% using these practices? Refer to another post by Sujai on Child CEOs.

  6. I honestly believe that political parties that argues for reservation of OBCs etc.,should unequivocably demonstrate the same in their organisation, for example the much talked about women's reservation.An end to the reservation issue would be seen and only if posts such as,( in the Coalition Government) the Prime minister, Key Ministers, Party Presidents etc., are also governed by the "reservation quotas" for a period in their tenure proportional to the perventage of their population, This should be enshrined in the constitution and applicable to all the political parties.

  7. Hmm... A basic question.. Des top, elite US colleges that you talk of that take lesser scoring students for diversity sake... Is there any mandatory 50% reservation there?
    Point is, reservation in primary schools probably makes sense.. But in higher education institutions doesnt.. We are eventually denying the deserving people their rightful opportunities and thus creating a nation which has stopped loving what it studies cos they have to compete for lesser seats..

  8. everything else you've written is fine..but the last paragraph is disappointing. how can you exemplify a totalitarian regime like the US in such a context where you are talking about an issue of democracy and distributive justice. taking US as a model contradicts the fundamental spirit of the issue.

  9. There are people out there who believe that students who are selected through reservations become poor doctors (though they have to pass through the same stringent exams as any other student). Sorry to say, there are many such cases including a few of my close family members.

    There are some professors at IIM & IIT who believe that ‘reservation’ students will decrease the quality of its institutions, though they would have to go through same tests, interviews and discussions as other students. Again True, I spoke to some of my faculty and they say that they have had to reduce to base marks for passing to prevent mass failures.

    About US universities promoting diversity, the promotion is purely based on merit, aspiration(they measure it) and returns. As for employers(I am one), we have various profit motives for selecting from various ethnic groups.

    I am one of the lucky few who could get to places without using the reservation(pittance) provided and I am proud of it. I am proud of my parents who supported me towards merit.


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