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Quotas as electoral sops is no solution to the lack of quality education, job creation and skilling

Reservations are a quick fix solution to more endemic problems. With the crisis in agriculture and the break up of land holdings, the once better off classes and castes have began demanding their share of the quota pie

editorials Updated: Nov 23, 2017 08:30 IST
Hindustan Times
Marathas,Meenas,Gujjars
Patidar leader Hardik Patel said on Wednesday that the Congress has accepted the community’s demand to be given quotas in jobs and college admissions if voted to power, an understanding that could help swing crucial votes in the Gujarat elections due next month. (Siddharaj Solanki/ Hindustan Times)

The Congress party’s promise of a quota for Patidars in educational institutions and government jobs if it comes to power in Gujarat is being seen as a smart political move on the part of both Patidar leader Hardik Patel and the Congress. It actually isn’t. Holding out reservations as a sop has become common currency in political negotiations with little thought to the consequences. In the last few years, we have seen the Marathas, the Jats, and the Patidars demanding reservations in education and jobs. But when it comes to implementing this, most parties have run into problems from the courts, and from other communities.

Reservations are a quick , albeit temporary, fix to deeper problems. With the crisis in agriculture, once dominant agrarian communities have seen their fortunes fade and have started demanding reservations in jobs and educational institutions. They see the benefits of affirmative action among the Dalits and Other Backward Classes.

But there are several problems with this. In this case, for instance, a quote will not solve the fundamental problem facing the Patidars -- an agrarian crisis. But as any smart politician knows, it is far easier to announce and implement quotas than get one’s head around the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that is Indian agriculture. At another level, in India, reservations become permanent entitlements, not the temporary tools of affirmative action they are supposed to be. And at still another level, quotas are becoming increasingly hard to implement. The law frowns on them beyond a certain proportion (the Supreme Court has been very clear that the upper limit be capped at 50%), and new quotas tend to be opposed both by groups that aren’t eligible for quotas, and those that are currently beneficiaries of existing ones. Finally, if India is serious about being a global player, it cannot take quotas above a certain level; there is, after all, something to be said for merit.

For political parties of all hues, though, the alternative is unpalatable: it could mean offending influential vote banks; worse, it could involve working to address fundamental problems related to agriculture, industry, education, skill development, and job creation (if there were enough jobs, after all, no one would be demanding reservation for government jobs). None of these is easy to address, and all will take time. A quota, in contrast, is just a number, easy to announce, and, more often than not, an end in itself.

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First Published: Nov 22, 2017 19:34 IST