In the election season, it is rare to see the issue of caste-based reservations being raised by any political figure. If it is then it is to offer more sops to more castes. So it was a refreshing change to see senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi advocating to do away with such reservations altogether.
Of course, the Congress will not go along with him at this juncture. But the issue does merit further discussion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has always made it a point to emphasis the need of a meritocracy.
He is a fine example of a person who has risen to this position solely on merit.
Successive governments have come with numerous social welfare schemes to give the disadvantaged a leg up, though these have not always been implemented in letter and spirit.
However, caste-based reservations seem to be a favourite boon handed out by all political formations even though this goes completely against the grain of nurturing real talent. In fact, many have gone as far as to suggest that even the private sector institute quotas for jobs. None of this is in keeping with an emerging economy where people will have to compete with the best in the world.
The caste quota issue has been divisive and destructive to society as a whole, often spilling over into violence on the streets. The Gujjar-Meena violence of some years ago is a case in point. Many castes have enriched themselves and instead of considering reservations as only a temporary crutch have begun to consider them as entitlements.
This has often meant that the really disadvantaged castes, thanks to poverty and lack of education, have not really benefitted from them. It is no one’s case that suddenly we will transform into a casteless society, but certainly it should not be perpetuated anymore than what has been done at present.
A much better answer is economic empowerment, skill development and education. But then these are tough and lengthy ways of ushering in an egalitarian society. After so many years of Independence, we need to explore better ways of creating an equal society and that certainly cannot come with perpetuating caste privileges. Already, we have sub-quotas within quotas in many places.
It would be a healthy trend in our democracy if we could discuss these issues in a rational fashion. Increasingly, in urban areas people do not want to be known by their caste identity. They want to be known for their merit and achievements.
This is what all political parties should be seeking to build on although it sounds Utopian at the moment. If the Congress, the grand of party of Indian democracy, were to initiate an open and honest debate on this drag on our society, other parties may follow suit.