If Arjun Singh’s stint as Human Resource Development Minister was about extension of quotas, and Murli Manohar Joshi was occupied with grand cultural discourses of indigenously oriented education, Kapil Sibal’s term has begun on a different note.
No talk of quotas in the 100-day agenda. This includes the pending extension of quotas to private, unaided colleges. To a question, he said: “I am here only to talk about the agenda.” And, understandably, there is no desire to go back to the ancient past, like Joshi.
Sibal has reached out to Dalits, other backward classes (OBCs) and minorities - collectively an important chunk of the Congress’ support base - but talked of incentives rather than quotas.
Sibal’s 100-day agenda is full of such examples:
1. Interest subsidy on loans for poor students, remedial coaching for students from SC.
2. ST and minority communities in higher education.
3. Equal opportunity offices in all universities for effective implementation of schemes for the disadvantaged.
4. Recasting the National Literacy Mission to focus on women.
5. Madrasa modernisation and skill development for Muslim children.
6. Model colleges in 100 districts with significant populations from weaker sections, and 100 hostels for girls in such districts.
But not a word on quotas.
India has 16 per cent Scheduled Castes, 8 per cent Scheduled Tribes, 41 per cent OBCs according to National Sample Survey Organisation estimates and 13.4 per cent Muslims. Together, these relatively disadvantaged groups constitute the majority of India.
Noted educationist and a professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Deepak Kumar, said the change in approach was expected. “Reservation has already divided society. So the Congress will initially try to put Mandal on the back-burner just as the BJP is trying to put Kamandal on the back-burner.”
“Things could, however, change when the next elections approach,” he said.
Kumar said the state should provide facilities and incentives — alongside the quota regime that has hit its outer limit — so that the most needy Dalits can benefit.
“Quotas see the son of an IAS officer and a cobbler as equal. If the state wants to help the disadvantaged, why not help the cobbler’s son with easy educational credit or scholarship with income limits attached?”
JNU teacher Amir Ali agreed with this line: “Affirmative action has a positive connotation to it. With reservation, how far can you go on and on? And then there will be demands for quotas within quotas.”
Arjun Singh’s time was different. He courted controversy by introducing OBC quotas in central educational institutions. He also promised quotas for private unaided colleges, which have found no mention in Sibal’s 100-day agenda.