Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Phony messiahs of the poor

Phony messiahs of the poor
Ravi Shanker Kapoor

The champions of caste-based reservations always accuse the opponents as being ‘elitist’, ‘anti-poor’, ‘anti-egalitarian’ and so on. The reaction of quotawallahs to the oversight committee’s report, however, exposes them as the most reactionary anti-egalitarians. Committee chairman and former Karnataka Chief Minister Veerappa Moily’s statement regarding a regular (five-yearly or 10-yearly) review of the reservation policy for other backward classes (OBCs) has enraged the quota lobby within the government. The Tamil parties DMK and PMK—whose politics revolves around the divisive Aryan north-Dravidian south ideology and caste politics—and some other parties like that of Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav are stridently campaigning against the oversight committee’s recommendations. They have accused Moily of being anti-reservation—a serious charge for a politician from south India where affirmative action is a holy cow and social justice is a mantra few can afford to dispense with.
In the West, studies have been done on affirmative action, proving that it hurts rather than helps the intended beneficiaries. As a recent article by George F. Will showed, there is a movement in the American state of Michigan out to do away with quotas based on ethnicity; and many blacks are supporting this movement. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country that even the review of reservations is met with fierce opposition from their protagonists.
Their brazenness also becomes evident from their attitude towards the creamy layer. The Supreme Court judgment, which validated the recommendations of the retrograde Mandal Commission report, had urged the government that the benefits of reservations for OBCs should not be siphoned off by the creamy layer. Even without the apex court’s caveat, this should have been the concern of a sincere proponent of affirmative action and social justice. For it is in the name of egalitarianism and of equal opportunity for all reservations are justified by their votaries. It is common knowledge that most benefits of quotas are monopolised by small elites among the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs. Therefore, keeping these privileged coteries out of the reservation benefits would be truly in the spirit of affirmative action (assuming that there is some merit in it); exclusion of the creamy layer would an authentic pro-poor measure.
So, if we accept for a moment the claim of quota advocates that reservations help the poor, their demand to perpetuate benefits to the creamy layer undermines their own argument of helping the poor. What is worse is that some intellectuals are providing the ammunition of sophistry to help the phony messiahs of the poor. One of them is Planning Commission member B.L. Mungekar, who is also in the oversight committee. The government should ignore the fallaciousness of such people.

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