One hundred Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) engineering and post-graduate students have completed an eight-month-long training with Infosys, and 76 of them have already got jobs. This is certainly an encouraging step towards the UPA’s inclusive growth model. But not to the dizzy extent to which Minister for Social Welfare Meira Kumar is pushing it as a “success” of “affirmative action”. In the same breath, Ms Kumar is lamenting the fact that no other corporate house came forward with similar proposals to provide SC/STs “sufficient skills to enable them to compete on their own merit”. Last year as the debate over quotas in the private sector raged, Infosys chairman N Narayana Murthy agreed to train 100 SC/ST graduates in Infosys’ Bangalore facility at a cost of Rs 1.36 crore, entirely borne by the corporate. In the completion of the pilot project, Ms Kumar finds confirmation that this is the way ahead for the private sector to contribute their mite in the war for equality.
But the pilot project has proved two points, which Ms Kumar seems oblivious to. One, the training has proved that it is merit, not quotas, that will ensure jobs in a knowledge economy. Two, corporates engage in scholarship programmes, education and training at various levels of the learning trajectory as a charitable act. To run their business, they recruit on the basis of merit. To that end, the kind of training imparted at Infosys is what government training colleges, like all ITIs and IIITs, should aim for. For the sweeping affirmative action model that is so loftily talked about, the government needs to beef up its education and training act right from the primary level — a little more than the effort the Social Welfare Ministry put in by way of forwarding the names of 100 first-class SC/ST engineering students and graduates to Infosys.
But caveats apart, this first step should be seen by India Inc as the right direction for affirmative action models. Professional training programmes for meritorious graduates will go a long way in creating a level playing field for the disadvantaged sections. That merit, of course, has to be moulded from scratch. And that part of the growth model still rests mainly with the government.