So now the government, in its full mafia glory, has made an offer industry cannot refuse.
Either the private sector voluntarily puts quotas for backward classes in place or the government will enact legislation which will force them to do the same thing.
Some industry bigwigs had put up a proposal to train backward classes at company cost in order to make them competitive in the job market—-but the government is not concerned about training, it wants their vote banks to have jobs—training and competency be damned.
In a way, extension of reservations to private sectors was inevitable —-after all Ram Vilas Paswan’s son may have been satisfied with a job in SAIL or ONGC but his grandson considers governmental jobs passe. He wants to work at Infosys and Wipro and its upto Ram Vilas Paswan to ensure that his grandson has the same sinecure that his son held.
The supporters of reservation (an ovewhelming majority of whom stand to gain from it) base their arguments on two principal premises.
1. For 5000 years, there has been total discrimination against Dalits. So now for another 5000 years, there should be “social justice” based on the injustices of the past as a means for a historical balancing of equations.
2. A higher class official is likely to discriminate against a lower-caste candidate because he is assumed to be incompetent by virtue of his birth. Hence the government needs to step in to make sure that biased people in power are “forced” to take lower-caste candidates.
Let’s look at point number 1. If we accept the premise, then we logically should also allow for the demolition of mosques (because temples were destroyed), the forced conversions of Muslims into Hindus (because Hindus were converted to Muslims by the sword) and massive pillage for the sake of historical retaliation against Muslim invaders. As a matter of fact, right wing loons like Praveen Togadia base their anti-Islamic vitriol on the basis of precisely such “historical” arguments.
Most sensible men realize that historical wrongs cannot be rectified in such a manner–it merely doubles the injustice rather than canceling each other out.
2. For government jobs, this logic indeed makes some sense. In a culture where productivity and performance are alien concepts, it can be argued that people in power could keep on perpetrating historic wrongs by choosing people of their own kind. However this logic cannot be applied for reservations in private sectors because of the presence of a factor governmental agencies do not concern themselves with (because of their inherent monopolistic nature)—the market.
If private companies discriminate against otherwise competent people on the basis of their birth, then they are compromising their ability to stay in competition. By the laws of the “market”, there will be at least one company which will understand that caste-based discrimination is not good for business and will derive a competitive advantage from it— a state of affairs so unstable that its competitors wont allow it to exist. As a result, no company is going to base their recruitment based on caste considerations.
In this context, it is indeed sad to see someone like Dr. Singh, who is wise enough to understand the egalitarian effects of market forces, attempt to force companies to base their recruitment on factors other than the competence of the candidate. The implementation of this caste-politics-driven heavy handedness would lead to a compromise of the competitiveness of Indian companies in the global market—-something Narayana Murthy obviously understood because of which he proposed other options.
Someone may point out that I am also making a connection between incompetence and low caste—-if a certain percentage of the workforce is drawn from backwards sections, why does it automatically mean that quality will be compromised?
Again the answer is market forces. An individual cultivates personal competency based on a system of incentives (in this case negative)—-if I am not competent, I won’t get a job. The assumption made here is that there is competition for jobs ie the number of candidates outnumber the number of positions. However, a system of reservations takes away the competition for a certain section of the population with the result that their incentive for cultivating personal competence is lost. Why slog away at getting an A in Compilers when I know that my birth certificate itself will guarantee me a cushy job?
In conclusion, historical wrongs do need to rectified. Sections of the population are still deprived of opportunities and it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that social justice is handed out. But the way to do that is through training and need-based financial assistance and by putting in checks and balances so that “backward classes” who have already availed of assistance do not keep on qualifying for it generation after generation based on their last name. However this is precisely what Paswan wants—he not only wants to look after his grandson but also his grandson’s grandson so that independent India keeps on apologizing to them, by giving them “guaranteed jobs ” for the wrongs meted out to Paswan’s grandfather.
PS: The author has no personal stake in the argument. I am not a high-class Bramhin. And I also think Ram Vilas Paswan rocks. I really do. Honest.
Update 1: Excellent post on the same topic at the Acorn .