The Reservation Impasse

For about a month now, I have been following the quota controversy as closely as is humanely possible by a person residing in the U.S. My opinion over the issue, thereby, has undergone several cuts and chips over this period of time. Begining from an intense emotional backlash and ending in a much more rational interpretation of the situation, I think I am in a good enough position to comment over the issue now.

The spark

A few months back, the Justify Fullcoalition Government of India headed by the Congress party introduced 27% reservations for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in all the institutes of "national importance" (later extended to all institutes of higher education). This decision was promulgated by the HRD (Human Resource and Development) minister, Arjun Singh. Summing with the already existing 22.5% reservation for SC/ST, this decision took the total reserved seats to 49.5% (just .5% shy of the upper limit of 50% reservation set by the Supreme Court of India). This decision came just before the assembly elections which are supposed to be held in 5 states. Caste politics which has always been the most important vote garnering means in India seemed to be the reason behind this sudden decision. When enquired (and to some degree reprimanded) by the Election commission over an alleged breach of the model code of conduct (which prohibits parties from promulgating populist measures just before an election is due), Arjun Singh took refuge in the argument that the present decision was just a natural succession of the 93rd constitutional amendment passed in the winter of 2005 (which was unanimously passed in the Parliament). Although sound, the argument failed to explain the fact that the constitutional amendment was just an enabling act and unlike many other such acts which are languishing and begging for attention, what was the reason that this particular act had to be implemented at such a crucial time.

The Mandal Controversy

There is a very important reason behind the nationwide political support to the reservation issue. The Mandal Commission, constituted in 1980s to assess the composition of India's caste fiber among other factors, came up with a figure of 52% OBC. The commission in an effort for suggesting ways by which the oppressed majority of the Indian population could be brought in par with the upwardly mobile middle class supported the implementation of limited reservations. The commission however went on to suggest other steps like improving primary education, land reforms etc also. It was not until 1990 that the suggestions of the Mandal commission were given a thought. The then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh decided to incorporate 22.5% SC/ST (the most oppressed classes) reservations in higher institutes neglecting all the other suggestions owing to their low political visibility. By doing so, he opened the pandora's box. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which has traditionally ridden on the upper caste votes vehemently opposed the move then. They were made to bite the dust as caste emerged as the latest dividing and polarizing factor in Indian politics. The move created huge uproar among the general public and culminated in the self immolation of several youths. Following this, V.P.Singh resigned as P.M and was succeded by P.V.Narasimha Rao. The caste division of politics got wider and uglier as national politics came to be dictated by caste leaders like Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati and many more. Due to this BJP lost power in one of her stronghold states, Uttar Pradesh. Now that caste is very much the deciding factor in most of the constituencies across India and SC/ST+OBC votes range from a pessimistic estimate of 50% to an optimistic estimate of 80%, no political party dares to raise her head against the increase in reservations this time around.

The present agitations

The latest move angered the influential minority which comprises basically of the middle and the upper classes. Begining with strikes from the medical students of AIIMS in delhi, the protest as of today has engulfed the IMA (Indian Medical Association which has purview over other medical facilities across the country), the IITs along with many other engineering institutes, the chamber of commerce, the knowledge industry in general, the lawyers' association, trade unions, shops etc. Despite repeated pleas by the Govt. and the president (and once by the Supreme Court), the strike continues today, thus hampering critical services like medical etc. The quota move triggered the resignation of 2 of the 6 members of the knowledge commission (especially comprised by the Prime Minister to assess the education scenario of the country). The matter has now been taken up by the Supreme Court which has asked the central government about the rationale behind this decision in addition to asking the strikers to stop their protest.

My Views

Rationally speaking, I feel that in a highly heterogeneous society like India, reservations, if used judiciously, can serve as a strong means of achieving social equality. The fact that after 50 years, the need of reservation has only increased goes on to indicate that its implementation has been done from behind politically coloured glasses. The fact of the matter is that no political party (especially today's Congress) wants a rationally developed vote bank. The reason behind the widespread poverty and illiteracy in India is not any physical constraint but an underlying politican gain which stems from an impoverished majority. In such a scenario, political parties can garner votes over baser issues like caste and religion rather than more important topics like development and education. In this context, the present move is more the case of breaking the leg of a patient and providing him with walking sticks than striving to improve his condition and enabling him to stand on his feet. The whole issue stinks of political murkiness and I pretty much support the ensuing protests.

On the other hand, one has to keep in mind that SC/ST/OBC comprise atleast 50% (possibly much more) of the 1 billion Indians. These classes have traditionally been discriminated against and there is a genuine need to provide them with help and assistance. The help might come in the form of reservations but it should be based more on economic backwardness than the now abstract notion of caste backwardness. Moreover, any such move, which threatens to change the face of the country should be backed by more concrete numbers rather than the whims and fancies of one HRD minister.

Finally, over the apparently cold governmental response over the present strikes, I can only say that the middle class deserves such a treatment. The reason is the utter apathy which the middle class (sadly including me) displays over other issues of national importance (like the Coffin scam, Gujarat riots etc.). Now when it has suddenly woken up and started protesting, everything seems so selfish. How many of us really go and vote? If we are too busy to voice our opinions, the political parties would be more than happy to ignore our presence because as I already said, the oppurtunists called politicians thrive on an illiterate and divided India.



If you have been a veteran at the numerous screenings of those mind-numbingly dumb hollywood disaster flicks, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you are presented with a 360 degree span view of a garangutan ocean liner, the inners of which are ornately decorated with elaborate doses of blindingly affluent profligation. How and when the hell is all this going to be turned into a confused and lethal mass of mangled wires, upturned furniture and strewen dead bodies?

As you are rubbing your hands in expectation, the director of Poseidon, sympathetic to your 8 bucks, glosses over any unnecassary character development and jumps straight to the action within 15 minutes of the start of the movie. Without any detail being supplied, the hapless audience is told that the Poseidon has been struck by a 150 ft. rogue wave and the ship has turned upside down (as if the passengers, now standing on the cealing are dumb enough to not figure this out). The film is not helped by its irritatingly banal dialogues. At the time when the grand central ball room is looking like the mangled remains of Hiroshima after the bombing, replete with disfigured corpses flying around every which way, one person asks the other, "How bad is it". "Really bad". As this line basically sums up the movie you can only tear apart those last remaining hair.

As the most foolish captain in the history of foolish sea-disaster movies cries to maintain status-quo as he thinks that help will arrive shortly, it is no surprise when a group of dare-doers led by the affectedly unnerved Lucas decide to reach the hull of the ship and get out. From this point you can basically guess whats going to happen in the movie. The group consists of Lucas (the daredevil hero), a former mayor with his daughter and her boyfriend, a mother with her child, a mexican waiter, a latino and a suicidal gay businessman. As far as final survivors are concerned, you make the following conclusions:

1. The mother and the child are not going to die as possession of a child imparts an immortalty to the mother and it is too sickening to kill a child, no matter howsoever irritating and troublesome he might be.

2. Josh Lucas is not going to die as he is ofcourse the "Hero".

3. Either of the girl or his boyfriend might die but if she has an expendable father, both might get saved.

4. Since the mexican waiter and the latino are played by relatively unknown characters, they will be the first to die.

and the movie lives up to all these observations. The only other things which should have been un-guessable are well, guessable. Like the lift falling down when the last guy just makes out of the vent. The sudden movement by an assumed deadbody accompanied by an orchestral bang. The water drowing the hero for just as long as he might survive.

The sole revelation of the movie was that the actors, instead of being homo-sapiens, belonged to some kind of a human-fish breed who could hold their breaths for unimaginably long intervals of time and traverse unimaginably long distances under water.

A final word. You can put your time to better use by counting the number of grass strands in your lawn.


Random Musings

The day has become so cruel now. Its no more the friend which used to conspire in our plans, cheer at those shots, revelle in our victories, lament at losses, confide silently, listen patiently, wait for me. Now, its so much more detached. Like a salesman, always in a hurry, phoney, like life, critical, demanding, too busy to pause for a chat, too short to allow a breath, too long to bear, too hot for a liesurly introspection, too cold to be a friend.

I remember the rising of the annoyed dust as the first rain drops came crashing down. I remember the smell of the partially wet earth. The unusually fresh green of the garden. Those puddles. That warm touch of the cold water. The dripping flocks. The shivering wind. The unusually grey sky. Distant, muffled lightning. Streaks on my window pane. Ripples in the river. Jumping in the puddles. Two worlds, one wild and turbulent, other snug and cozy, separated by a glass window. Now, rain is reduced to an inconvenience. A temporary, unwanted hiatus disturbing normalcy. The window has gone lifeless. Its there just to serve the purpose. The metaphor is gone. And the rain, desolate now, cries quietly on the other side.

I wonder, have the sacrifices been worth the gains? In this rush, innocence has paled and died. Time is fragmented with each fragment already claimed. There is a thick coat of dust on real pleasures. And I shrink and flinch as I try to remove it. Finally I give up and that bundle of joys, now blurred and hidden in the dust which binds my hands, hangs on the wall, sad, lonely, perhaps disillusioned and on its deathbed. And I look on, with nostalgic eyes, weigh reason against emotion, and turn away yet again.

About Me

My photo
Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.