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Multiply, don?t divide

The Navodaya schools are a fine example of what an imaginative State can achieve. Yet, politicians continue to bank on reservations, a policy that has failed time and again.

india Updated: May 20, 2006 02:02 IST

Students protesting against the enhanced reservations in professional and other institutions may like to recall that what V.P. Singh implemented in 1990 was the outcome of a report submitted in 1980. It was put in cold storage by the then central government for various reasons, prominent among which was that it would adversely impact the country’s social fabric. In 1990, the announcement was made purely for political reasons and the leader of the Opposition, Rajiv Gandhi, had criticised the manner and intent of the entire strategy. Have all those factors that kept the Mandal report in total discard for ten years totally vanished today?

Why was it not considered expedient to arrive at a national consensus before announcing, all of a sudden, the decision of the central government to implement 27 per cent reservations for OBCs? Those who support the government from outside certainly remember the occurrences, including the loss of life that followed Mandal I. How can they feign ignorance in the wake of Mandal II and lament, as Sitaram Yechury does in his article on these pages (Brand Equity, May 18), “The country is being pushed again, into a frenzy similar to the one that accompanied the V.P. Singh government decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations for reservations in jobs for OBCs in 1990”?

The spirit of the constitutional provisions on reservations was to provide access to equal opportunity. The weaker sections needed support and the nation unanimously incorporated it in the Constitution. The responsibility of implementation was entrusted to the government. Statistics indicate progress is what successive governments tell us. These are essential ingredients in such initiatives but certainly not sufficient in isolation.

There is not much evidence to indicate the extent of benefits that reservations have brought to those who needed it. But the failures are enormous as indicated, among others, by the drop-out rates of SC and ST children in Classes V, VIII and X; these stand at 51.37, 68.67 and 80.29 per cent respectively. In government schools, children fail in examinations conducted at various levels year after year and no one is concerned. Only children fail, none else.

I must hasten to add how governments act  with all sincerity and seriousness to improve individual schools. The central cabinet has before it a proposal for 3.5 crore grant to  Sanskriti school of Delhi, a private, unaided entity. Is there need for any other example of the central government’s concern for social justice, equity and equality of opportunity? It may be recalled that this government is committed to implement the Common School System in India.

We have, for historic and social reasons, a fragile fabric of social cohesion. Small incidents spark off riots and disturbances that often claim human lives. Their impact lasts for years to come. India needs sincere efforts from all sections of society and the government to strive hard to strengthen the bonds of togetherness. Instead, we are creating uneasiness, to say the least, among students. Do we expect them not to read between the lines when a decision of such a nature is announced just a couple of days before the assembly elections in five states?

Are people not entitled to decipher the dimensions of political intent, content and the hypocrisy? There is certainly better understanding of and alertness about the political implications among people of India today than in 1990.

Reservations do address the issue of equity but fact remains that the majority of the SC/ST category has remained bereft of the possible social and economic gains. These were supposed to benefit all of them but got confined to what is now referred to as the creamy layer. Issues of quality and equity were never sincerely addressed at the school level.

There certainly was one exception. The youngest Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, did address the issue and initiated the Navodaya Vidyalaya Schools, particularly for talented rural children.

It was a conceptualisation of rare foresight and ingenuity. It should have been not only strengthened but also replicated. Politics takes amusing, amazing and often very disturbing,  turns. The Navodaya Vidyalayas are named after Jawaharlal Nehru but are really Rajiv Gandhi’s brainchild. The deserving may not necessarily get their due when politics and extraneous considerations overtake academic and professional factors. Let policy-makers not ignore the recent past.


The writer is former Chairman of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and was Director of the NCERT