Friday, April 18, 2008

Thought this way after watching TV channels and reading up newspaper edits on the SC judgment on reservation to OBCs in IITs and IIMs.

The Supreme Court verdict, last week, upholding the validity of the 93rd Constitution amendment and the consequent law to reserve 27 per cent seats in such centres of excellence as the IITs and the IIMs to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has raised a debate. It is still too early to conclude as to whether the concerted attempts to whip up passions would lead and another round of anti-reservation protests or not. But then, it is most likely that the grudge against reservation persists for long and pervades our social life.

The forces of status quo, however, will continue to have a free access to the private engineering, medical and business schools. The Government is still not sure as to whether these institutions must be allowed to carry on with their business without being asked to fall in line with the imperative for social justice. There is, in any case, very little scope for interference, as things stand now, in the aftermath of the apex court judgment in the TMA Pai case. It is another matter as to whether these institutions can be called private at all.

The point is that the exclusivist agenda was carried out by the forces of status quo in the area of school education with such effect and finesse in the past couple of decades. It is simply impossible for those without adequate means to go to such schools, attend coaching classes thereafter and land up in any one of the centres for excellence. This way, the potential for social change through positive discrimination for the OBCs was frustrated.

This was achieved through a two-pronged strategy: Letting the Government run schools drift into a state of dysfunction. And those who went to such schools landed up in the Government run Arts and Science colleges, end up with graduate and post-graduate degrees and competing for petty jobs and struggle to live for the rest of their life.

Meanwhile, another set of schools, with infrastructure needed to equip children land up in the centres for excellence, were set up across the country over the past three decades where only those children with means could study. One does not have to be a genius to realize that only those with reasonable means can afford to send their children to these schools. And if only one looks at things with a sense of honesty, it is clear that a large chunk of those with such means had the privilege to go to good schools and colleges and thus landed in government or public sector jobs. It will also be evident that a majority of that large chunk happen to belong to social groups that are held as Upper Castes.

We do find graduates and post-graduates in various disciplines competing for class-IV jobs in the Government and working as security guards and errand boys in shops in our own neighbourhood. Most of such young men and women happen to be first generation literates and more importantly belong to social groups that are classified as Backward or Other Backward Classes. There may be exceptions to this.

This indeed is why the Supreme Court verdict last week makes a lot of sense. It will ensure that at least 27 out of every 100 students in the IITs and IIMs, from now on, would have gone to schools without adequate infrastructure, studied in ordinary colleges and those who did not go to coaching centres (to prepare the entrance tests) because they could not afford that. They too can now hope to land in jobs that fetch them several lakhs as annual compensation.

The other important issue raised in the debate over the Supreme Court judgment is whether caste alone could be the criteria for determining backwardness. This dispute too, if there was one, was settled by the apex court as long ago as in 1968 and reiterated in the Indira Sawney case in 1993.

In the P.Rajendran Vs. State of Madras (AIR 1968 S.C.1012), the apex court held: ``If the reservation in question had been based only on caste and had not taken into account the social and educational backwardness of castes in question, it would be violative of Article 15(1). But it must not be forgotten that a caste is also a class of citizens and if the caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, reservation can be made in favour of such a caste on the ground that it is socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4)…’’

This indeed was the basis of the Mandal Commission’s identification of the Other Backward Classes. The Commission’s list of OBCs was prepared on the basis of data collated on the basis of a questionnaire containing data on 11 indicators and these involved the social, educational and economic status of the castes.

Castes that were considered backward by others and depended, predominantly, on manual labour for their livelihood and castes where the proportion of women getting married even before they are 17 years of age are at least 25 percentage points higher than the average (of this) in the respective State and where the participation of women in the labour force are 25 per cent lower than the mean in that state were considered socially backward.

As for educational backwardness, the Commission treated those castes from where the literacy rates (among the 5-15 years age) were at least 25 per cent lower than the mean average in the State and where the drop-out rate in the same category was 25 per cent more than the mean average of the State and castes where the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 per cent lower than the mean average in the respective State as Educationally Backward.

For the economic status, the Commission enumerated as backward only those castes where the average value of family assets were at least 25 per cent below the State average, where the families living in kuccha houses were 25 % more than the state average, castes who lived in settlements where the drinking water source was beyond 500 metres for more than 50 % of the households and castes where the number of households having taken consumption loan is at least 25 % above the State average.

The OBCs that are now eligible for positive discrimination in central institutions for higher learning were identified on this basis and belong to those castes that secured at least 11 points in the 22 point scale. The basis for reservation, hence, is not merely the castes described backward in the 1931 census as those opposed to reservation make it appear.

Meanwhile, the social elite and their articulate votaries will continue to grudge reservations as such; it is only natural for them to do so because these seats, until now, were reserved to them because they, by virtue of the caste in which they were born, had the advantage of having been sent to good schools, good colleges and thereafter to these centres of excellence!

The Supreme Court, in fact, had made a pointed reference to this tendency as long ago as in 1971. In the Periakaruppan Vs State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 1971 S.C. 2303), the apex court held that sections of the people will be unable to compete with the advanced groups and hence upheld the need for positive discrimination for the Backward Classes. Of significance here is this observation by the bench: ``Advantages secured due to historical reasons should not be considered as fundamental rights’’.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some reflections on the CPI(M) and the Coimbatore congress (published in new indian express, wednesday, april 9, 2008)

After being re-elected as general secretary of the CPI(M), Prakash Karat spoke of his party’s quest for the formation of a third front. Karat also declared that the party congress in Coimbatore this week had charted a concrete plan towards that. But then, Karat’s body language revealed that he did not mean anything that he said. The party is clearly being realistic; a third front, given the reality now, cannot be seen as anything but a slogan.

The political resolution that the party congress approved, after all, had conveyed without ambiguity that the party was reconciled to the prospect of remaining stuck with propping up a Congress-led coalition at the Centre. The only aspect that remains non-negotiable is that its relationship with the Congress shall not mature into a post-poll coalition. In other words, the CPI(M) will not let its men, at least in the immediate context, to join a Congress-led cabinet at the centre.

In this sense, the CPI(M) congress in Coimbatore was an insignificant event. All the sparks from Karat and his comrades, even until a fortnight ago, on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and the ``ultimatum’’ that the leaders seemed to serve on the Government, every now and then, turned out to be rhetoric.

There were, however, some significant developments at the Coimbatore congress. One of them is the decision to relieve Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu from the Politburo; this will mean that the party’s top brass will now be constituted by a generation of communist leaders who matured in the party after India’s independence. That is only natural. Independent India, after all, is now sixty years old and that a majority of the 15 member Politburo belong to a generation that was born after independence is indeed a comment on the dynamics of the party. They are all leaders, in their own right and not because they were sons and daughters of older leaders.

This may be true with the BJP too. Barring L.K.Advani, the party’s leadership is relatively young and is constituted by a set of people who arrived in the party through one or another movement and not because their parents were holding positions of importance in the Jan Sangh. This does not mean that the BJP and the CPI(M) have things in common. The comparison, in fact, is not justified in any sense and the two parties, in fact, represent two distinct approaches to politics, society and every aspect of life.

The simple point here is that there is a stark contrast between the Congress on the one hand and the CPI(M) and the BJP on the other and the basis for the emergence of a new generation of leaders, who are there in their own rights, lay in the fact that these two parties happened to remain strong anti-establishment forces over a period of time since August 1947.

As for the other parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the RJD, the BJD, the Lok Dal, the Janata Dal, the DMK, the Shiv Sena or the National Conference, their dynamics did not allow for the emergence of a new set of leaders in their own right. These parties, like the Congress, have ended up being turned into enterprises with the son or the daughter of the top leader inheriting the mantle as it happens with property.

In this sense, there is a striking commonality between these parties and the Congress and the roots of this can be located in the fact that these parties, like the Congress (and unlike the Indian National Congress that led the struggle for freedom) were founded and existed only in order to preserve the vested and other interests of the leaders, their kith and kin.

The birth of the CPI(M) in 1964, on the other hand, was determined by an anti-establishment zeal and in this sense marked an open revolt against the pro-Congress line of the ``majority’’ in the CPI establishment at that time. This, in a sense explains the dearth of a new generation of leaders in the CPI today. Barring the not so young D.Raja, Atul Kumar Anjan and Amarjeet Kaur, the party’s top is constituted by a generation that was past its youth many decades ago. And the fact that the party did not really constitute the establishment in any way (as did the Congress), even the sons and the daughters of these leaders did not join the party in the way those sons and daughters of the Congress or the other opposition parties did.

All this is to say that the CPI(M), settled or saddled as it is with the idea of being part of the ruling establishment, could end up becoming a moribund structure. That could mean either of the two things: The not-so-young turks in the party would remain leaders even after a couple of decades and more as it is happening now with the CPI; or the sons and daughters of these leaders inherit the leadership positions in the same way as it has been happening with the various other regional and ``national’’ political outfits.

The CPI(M) did not end up in either of these scenarios all these years only because it had remained an anti-establishment force for most parts of its existence as a party. Prakash Karat, Biman Bose, Manik Sarkar and Sitaram Yechury began their political life in the Sixties in this very context. Jyoti Basu’s son and Surjeet’s son did not join the party then because doing so would have meant a life of struggle and even getting beaten up by the police or spells in jail. The sons and daughters, hence, opted out of politics. This is not the case now. We do find a number of the sons and daughters of the senior leaders in the party now and they are all leaders also because pedigree matters a lot in the conditions we live in.

In other words, the CPI(M)’s present state, where the party is reconciled, even if it is grudgingly, to the idea of propping up and sustaining a Congress-led establishment at the Centre could land the party into a state in which the CPI is now. But then, unlike the CPI, the CPI(M) is the bigg boss holding on to its own establishment in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura; the CPI ends up propping that in these States for its own survival.

This could mean that the CPI(M) too ends up as an establishment in these three States in the same way the RJD is in Bihar, the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the NCP in Maharashtra, the Janata Dal (secular) in Karnataka, the BJD in Orissa and the Congress or the BJP in many other parts of the country where the party is reduced to another immovable property and leadership positions as well as nominations to contest elections are inherited by lineage rather than merit. This may be of concern only to the party faithful.

There is, however, a larger cause for concern in this kind of a scenario where politics becomes a career option. And that is the criminal-politician-nexus that is eating into the vitals of our democratic polity even otherwise.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Imagine Rahul Gandhi in up jail ... and writing another Discovery of India!!!!!!!!!

Congress president, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi do not cease to excite the political discourse. The latest of this was her speech in the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee meet at Kanpur this week. Sonia exhorted her partymen in the State to be prepared to go to jail. And that if they were prepared to spend time in jail, she would send Rahul Gandhi too to do that!

Now, it is not as if that the Congress party men in Uttar Pradesh have not been to jail. I can list out a few of them who were in jail, for extended periods of time. Hari Shankar Tiwari was one of them. He was in jail, at various points of time. He is now in the Bahujan Samaj Party. Sanjay Singh, another important leader of the Congress party, hails from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, was in jail for a while. And Pramod Tiwari, the Congress Legislature Party leader in Uttar Pradesh was in jail for short terms. The list can be long but that is not the point.

The point is that these illustrious men were in jail or in a police lock-up because they were held, at different points of time, on charges including murder, kidnapping and other such criminal acts. And in this sense, they were put in jail for reasons that had nothing to do with taking up the people’s cause. And since Sonia did not object to the presence of Sanjay Singh and his likes in the UPCC meet, I am constrained against presuming that she did not mind her partymen going to jail, even if it was for similar reasons.

The Congress, after all, has promoted and rewarded such men with criminal records in Uttar Pradesh as well as in many other parts of the country. Recall the Pandey brothers, who had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore (in 1977-78) demanding that Sanjay Gandhi be freed from the Tihar jail. Sanjay was then held in jail for charges of tampering with evidence in the kissa kursi kha case and the detention was on orders by the Supreme Court. One of the Pandeys became an MLA and was made a Minister in Uttar Pradesh.

Then we have Jagdish Tytler, H.K.L.Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar, whose claim to political importance was derived out of their role in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in November 1984. Tytler and Bhagat were Ministers for long years in the Union Cabinet. There was one Kali Pandey, from Bihar, who was as much a mafia don and a Congress MP for a long time. We have had a Bansi Lal, holding important positions in the Union Cabinet because he was useful for the Congress in dealing with anyone who opposed the party even if it meant resorting to illegal methods and killing.

We know of Mani Subba, a Congress MP from Assam, whose links with the underworld in many parts of the country was established in the various courts and held guilty of murder remaining in the Congress party. Or a Santosh Mohan Deb, whose strong arm methods were useful to the Congress in Tripura against the CPI(M) in the State. It is possible to go on and on with such examples of Congress leaders who should have been in jail and who were in jail. And it is also a fact that this tendency is not restricted to the Congress alone.

Sonia Gandhi’s call to her partymen to be prepared to go to jail and that Rahul Gandhi too will join them in that act is indeed jarring in this context. One of the reasons for it is that the Congressmen in Uttar Pradesh are not the types who will agree to go to jail; not because they are so much of law abiding citizens but because they are all far too sophisticated to be doing what the Pandey brothers, Hari Shankar Tiwari and Mani Subba did. They are not the kinds who know how to handle a gun, organize kidnappings and murder!

The new-generation Congress leaders from Uttar Pradesh, like Rahul Gandhi were born into rich families and these sons of the old Congress leaders were used to a life of comfort and plenty because their parents had made a lot of money by being in the Congress for long years. Hence they went to schools where the fees were high and colleges where politics was detested and in the process they are not used to the life of a grass-roots political activist. They detest sweating it out and are also unfamiliar with the ways of dealing with the rough and tumble of politics.

Sonia too belongs to this type and so does Rahul Gandhi. He may plan a night-out in a remote village with a poor family but that is not the same as spending days and nights on end in solitary prisons. Rahul Gandhi’s great grand father Jawaharlal Nehru managed to do that and wrote the Discovery of India from jail. Rahul Gandhi would do well to rather sit at home and try reading the book for sometime now. He will be assured of the right to stay at 10 Janpath because the nation still believes that he should be provided with a residence.

And if he reads the book and manages to make sense of what is written in that, he will also realize that his mother’s call and his own antics will not do to revive the Congress party. He will realize that the Congress lacks the vision to revive itself and that a clarion call to go to jail is easier said than carried out. A tall order, indeed, for someone like Rahul Gandhi whose admission into one of the Delhi University colleges was managed by fraudulent means. Rahul Gandhi secured admission for his graduate programme after the College management agreed to consider rifle shooting as a sport (which was not considered that way until then).

The point is that the Congress in Uttar Pradesh is decimated beyond repair and neither will the partymen be prepared to agitate and go to jail nor will such things work to help it revive. Sonia may be innocent of all this because she is innocent of a whole lot of other things in politics. I am, however, amazed that the media takes all these of Sonia's utterences seriously.