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Clear the air

The silver lining is that not everyone in the Congress subscribes to Mr Singh?s debilitating plans. His governmental and party colleague, Kapil Sibal, has spoken out clearly against reservations.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2006 21:41 IST

HRD Minister Arjun Singh may well be seeing himself as a visionary in action. As is the case with most people so inclined, his idea of putting his plan into operation is to simply ram it down people’s throats. His proposal of reserving 49.5 per cent seats in government-run engineering, medical and management institutes and bullying the IITs and IIMs to provide caste-based quotas is a disaster in the making for institutions of higher education. Mr Singh may like to see himself as an old-style Congressman, but actually he is not. The grand old party has always been an umbrella party-- representing all sections of society-- that has always come a cropper when trying to play vote bank politics. But this breed of Congressmen, who at one time also included the ‘father of Mandal’, VP Singh, finds the business of correcting social imbalances from a primary level to be too tedious. They do so because it is actually harder to provide equal opportunities at the primary school-- or the pre-specialisation levels-- than to dole out seats according to caste. Also, there is little in terms of political payback that one can get out of a universal policy.

The silver lining is that not everyone in the Congress subscribes to Mr Singh’s debilitating plans. His governmental and party colleague, Kapil Sibal, has spoken out clearly against foisting reservations in institutions of higher education. Mr Sibal is aware that at stake is the quality of these institutions, the very engine that makes India what it is, not only in the eyes of the world but also in the reckoning of its home-grown talent.

In the UPA’s common minimum programme, there is no mention of creating a world according to Mandal. Instead, it is clear about ensuring “that all institutions of higher learning and professional education retain their autonomy”, adding that “the UPA will ensure that nobody is denied professional education because he or she is poor”. All Mr Singh has done is to introduce confusion, where none existed. The protesting medical students in Delhi on Wednesday, for instance, will be unable to differentiate between where the UPA’s policy starts and Mr Singh’s policy ends. Perhaps, it’s time for the Prime Minister and his government to clear the confusion, once and for all.