No evidence that reservation leads to incompetence: Abhijit Banerjee

Updated on Nov 04, 2022 09:16 PM IST

Abhijit Banerjee said that the average constituency in India is too big as compared to electoral constituencies abroad. This impacts elections as voters hardly get information about their elected representatives and whatever little the elected leaders do, satisfy only a small portion of the electorate

Abhijit Banerjee delivered the 27th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture (Videograb/Bar and Bench)
Abhijit Banerjee delivered the 27th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture (Videograb/Bar and Bench)
ByAbraham Thomas

NEW DELHI: There is no evidence that reservation for women and scheduled castes and tribes in politics leads to massive incompetence, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee said on Friday.

Countering the criticism that reservations were anti-merit, the Indian-born American economist said, “While there are often claims of somehow this (reservation) will lead to massive incompetence, you see no evidence of it. What you see, over a period of time is independent women legislators emerging as a result of it.”

Delivering the 27th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on the topic “Democracy on the Ground: What works, what doesn’t and why”, Banerjee said, “There is very compelling evidence that reservation, both for SC/ST and women, has had a salutary effect.” He said that these were the findings based on studies conducted by experts, including his wife Esther Duflo who has researched in this area.

Both Banerjee and Duflo were named co-winners of the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel. The two, who are professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge shared this honour with Harvard University economist Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.

Banerjee also underlined that reservation in local elections was designed to fail. Due to reservation in local bodies, he said, “A lot of persons elected to local self-government bodies do not get a second run due to rotation of seats to accommodate reservation. So we want local democracy but we also want reservation. That’s a failure by design.”

Banerjee said that the average constituency in India is quite big compared to electoral constituencies abroad. This impacts elections as voters hardly get information about their elected representatives and whatever little the elected leaders do, satisfy only a small portion of the electorate.

“If we want democracy to work, we should have smaller constituencies,” Banerjee said. Making a comparison, he said that the Indian Lok Sabha has 540 seats while the British House of Commons has 650 Members of Parliament. The population here is 20 times that of the United Kingdom with each constituency being 24 times larger than those existing there.

“When constituencies are large, it is hard to get information about legislators. Leaders on the ground matter very little to individuals. We do not have a direct mechanism for rewarding legislators. Whatever they do, affects a little segment in their constituency. This breeds indifference among people.”

This ultimately impacts voting patterns. Sharing from his experimental work carried out in India, Banerjee explained that when voters are told about their legislators, it impacts their choices. In the absence of this information, he said, “Voters begin to think that the system does not deliver much in any case, so why don’t I vote for my caste or someone who sounds similar to my name....This is partly because they have no idea what their legislators do.”

Sharing data from Uttar Pradesh for the years between 1980 and 1996, Banerjee said that as more and more persons from a particular caste got elected, they became the worst in terms of corruption. “There is tolerance of people from your own caste of people who are corrupt. They say that they come from ‘their’ party. The more dominant (caste) that you are, the worst legislators you elect. This is the striking thing that ethno-centricity does. You are ethno-centric because you have no stake in politics.”

He touched upon other structural problems in education, and health where the priority of elected leaders is different from that of voters. “How does one change the distribution of powers within the system so that democracy can function within the system is a thought I leave you with,” he added.

The lecture was given in honour of former Delhi high court judge, Justice Sunanda Bhandare who died at the age of 52 in the year 1994. The event was presided over by Supreme Court’s justice Hima Kohli and attended by justice Sidharth Mridul of the Delhi high court and former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B Lokur.

The gathering, comprising mostly of former judges, academics, social workers and legal luminaries, observed a minute’s silence to remember another champion of women’s rights and SEWA founder Elaben Bhatt who died on November 2.

Get Latest India Newsalong with Latest Newsand Top Headlinesfrom India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, February 03, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals