Read The Hindu Important Articles 11 January 2019
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10% Reservation: A solution in search of a problem
Instead of addressing inequality, the 10% quota for economically weaker sections creates huge anxieties
If the number of demands for implementing reforms is any guide, India’s reservation system is clearly in disarray. However, it is unlikely that the recently passed Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, creating a 10% quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS), will serve as anything more than a band-aid.
Given the deep inequalities prevalent in access to education and jobs based on caste and socio-economic status, affirmative action (or positive discrimination) makes a lot of sense. However, the system that was put in place during the early years of the Republic deserves serious re-evaluation in an era when technology has paved the way for deploying a better equipped arsenal. Here I present an evaluation of the potential implications of the EWS quota Bill, followed by some alternatives.
Excluding no one
The Bill promises 10% reservation to individuals classified as economically backward. However, while a number of criteria were discussed in the parliamentary debate, the Bill is quite silent on this. Assuming that among the criteria discussed in Parliament, those that are currently applied to the definition of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) creamy layer are the ones to be used, it is not clear how useful they would be. While the OBC creamy layer has been created to exclude people who are clearly well off, the EWS quota, in contrast, is expected to focus on the poor. One of the criteria — the income threshold of ₹8 lakh per annum — has been mentioned. The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of households falls under this threshold, even when we take inflation into account. Similarly, as per the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), the annual household incomes of 98% of households are less than ₹8 lakh. Even if we apply all the other criteria for exclusion (e.g. amount of land owned and size of home), the Bill would still cover over 95% of the households. So, who are we excluding? Almost no one.
While the benefits of the EWS quota are likely to be minimal, the cost may be higher than one anticipates. First, it is important to remember that general category jobs are open to everyone, including Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and OBC individuals. Thus, by removing 10% jobs from the “open” category, it reduces the opportunities for currently reserved groups. Hence, this is by no means a win-win situation. This may be particularly problematic for OBCs since OBC reservation is limited to 27% of the seats whereas the OBC population is at least 40% of the population, possibly more. Thus, this move is almost certain to result in calls for greater OBC reservation, particularly if a constitutional amendment to increase the proportion of reserved seats from 50% to 60% is already being adopted.
Getting caste certificates
Second, actual implementation of the EWS quota could be challenging. Few non-SC/ST/OBC individuals have a caste certificate. A large number of SC/ST/OBC households report difficulties in obtaining these certificates. How would an individual practically lay claim to this status?
Third, in an era when skill demands are rapidly outpacing supply of candidates in specialised fields, the EWS quota increases the constraints. If a university advertises for an associate professor for quantum physics under the EWS quota and the only suitable candidate happens to be from an OBC category, she could not be hired. These challenges occur for all positions under specifically reserved categories and we have chosen to live with these difficulties in the interest of the greater good of equity. However, there is little benefit to be derived from the EWS quota.
Arguably, the greatest cost of this amendment lies in the foregone opportunity to develop an enhanced and more effective reservation policy so that we can genuinely see an end to the entrenched inequalities in Indian society in the medium term. We have gotten so used to business as usual that we make no effort to sharpen our focus and look for more effective solutions, solutions that would make reservations redundant in 50 years.
If we were to redesign from scratch, what would an effective affirmative action policy look like? If the goal is to help as many people as possible, we are facing a serious challenge. On the one hand, 50% reservation looks very large; in the grand scheme of India’s population it is a blunt and at times ineffective instrument.
The following statistics from the Union Public Service Commission provide a sobering view of ground realities. In 2014, only 0.14% applicants to the UPSC were selected. Moreover, the general category and OBCs have the highest success rate, about 0.17%, and SCs have the lowest, about 0.08%. This may be because of the perception that it is easier for SCs to be recruited via the reserved quota and this may have led to a large number of SCs taking the civil services examination. One might say that many of these candidates are not qualified for these jobs. However, if we look at the candidates who made it past the preliminary examination (providing preliminary quality assurance), the picture is equally grim. Only about 8% of the candidates who took the main examination succeeded. Here the success rate is 8.2-8.3% for SC and ST candidates, 9.9% for OBCs and 7.8% for the general category. This suggests that in spite of the grievances of upper castes, reserved category applicants are not hugely advantaged.
The above statistics tell us that in spite of reservations, a vast proportion of reserved category applicants do not find a place via the UPSC examination. I suspect statistics from other fields may tell a similar story. This implies that if we expect reservations to cure the ills of Indian society, we may have a long wait.
Spread the benefits
Hence, we must think about alternative strategies. One strategy may be to try and spread the benefits of reservations as widely as possible within the existing framework and ensure that individuals use their reserved category status only once in their lifetime. This would require that anyone using reservations to obtain a benefit such as college admission must register his/her Aadhaar number and she would be ineligible to use reservations for another benefit (e.g. a job) in the future. This would require no changes to the basic framework but spread the benefits more broadly within the reserved category allowing a larger number of families to seek upward mobility.
A second strategy might be to recognise that future economic growth in India is going to come from the private sector and entrepreneurship. In order to ensure that all Indians, regardless of caste, class and religion, are able to partake in economic growth, we must focus on basic skills. We have focused on admission to prestigious colleges and government jobs, but little attention is directed to social inequality in the quality of elementary schooling. The IHDS shows that among children aged 8-11, 68% of the forward caste children can read at Class 1 level while the proportion is far lower for OBCs (56%), SCs (45%) and STs (40%). This suggests that we need to focus on reducing inequalities where they first emerge, within primary schools.
The challenge we face is that our mindset is so driven by the reservation system that was developed in a different era that we have not had the time or the inclination to think about its success or to examine possible modifications. The tragedy of the EWC quota is that it detracts from this out-of-the-box thinking!
Let the grassroots breathe
Local bodies must not be administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments
One of the first decisions of the newly elected Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan has been to scrap the minimum educational qualification criteria for candidates contesting local body elections. This reverses the amendments introduced by the previous government of the BJP in 2015 which required candidates contesting the zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections to have passed Class 10 and those contesting sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8. Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest. Following this, Haryana also introduced similar restrictions for contesting local body elections.
The decisions by the Rajasthan and Haryana governments were widely criticised and also challenged in the courts. However, in December 2015, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. State of Haryana upheld the validity of the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act. In a contentious judgment authored by Justice J. Chelameswar, the court held that prescription of educational qualification was justifiable for better administration and did not violate the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. The latest decision of the Gehlot government has once again revived the debate on the fairness of having such restrictions.
Prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is problematic in multiple ways. Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy. Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting. Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor. In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations. The decision by the Gehlot government is hence a necessary corrective to an unjust rule.
Rationale for restrictions
Beyond the correctness of these decisions, it is also important to look at the underlying rationale for introducing educational qualifications specifically for local government elections. After all, such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections. In fact, in the present Lok Sabha, 13% of MPs are under-matriculates, a share higher than those of women MPs.
These restrictions reveal that State governments and courts do not value local governments for their representative character. In Rajbala, the court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”. On the one hand, this is based on an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats. On the other, it reveals that State governments and courts place a premium on administration over representation in case of local governments.
This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. Though local governments now have a definite space within India’s constitutional structure, they are still seen as administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments. The disqualification of candidates who don’t have toilets in their home or defecate in open is clearly an example where the implementation of a Central programme like the Swachh Bharat Mission gets precedence over the need for representative government.
Denying local democracy
The undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections. Often it takes a more brazen form: not holding elections to local governments. Over the years, many State governments have sought to defang local governments by simply delaying elections on various grounds. Elections to panchayats and municipalities in Tamil Nadu have not been held since 2011. In Visakhapatnam, elections to its Municipal Corporation were last held in 2007. These local governments now function as bureaucratic machines without an elected council to hold them accountable.
The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments which listed the “absence of regular elections” and “prolonged supersessions” as stated reasons behind their introduction. These amendments also mandated the creation of a State Election Commission (SEC) in each State for the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections to panchayats and municipalities. However, in most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the SEC. It is often under the guise of delimitation of seats that local government elections are delayed, especially when the party in power fears losses.
India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power. However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim. The lack of alarm caused by the denial of local democracy reveals our collective bias regarding the place of local governments. Delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.
As Turkey rebuffs its plea to protect Syrian Kurds, the U.S. must evaluate its next move
President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of American troops from Syria ran into trouble this week as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rebuffed National Security Adviser John Bolton’s suggestions for an orderly exit. After Mr. Trump announced the pull-out of about 2,000 troops from northeast Syria, Mr. Bolton had said the troops would leave the war-torn country after the Islamic State is beaten. He also said Kurds, U.S. allies in the fight against the IS, should be protected. This has ostensibly angered Turkey, which considers the Syrian Democratic Forces, the official military wing of Syrian Kurdistan, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, deemed a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington. Mr. Erdogan, who initially welcomed Mr. Trump’s announcement of troops withdrawal, lashed out at Mr. Bolton for setting conditions for the pull-out. Tensions were so high that Mr. Erdogan refused to meet Mr. Bolton, who was in Turkey. The U.S. is now in a fix. Its President has announced the withdrawal. But it cannot just exit Syria without considering the existing geopolitical equations in the region. Kurds were pivotal in the war against the IS, and it is highly likely that Turkey could attack them as soon as the U.S. troops leave. Ankara sees an autonomous, militarily powerful Kurdistan on the Syrian side of the border as a threat to its territorial integrity.
Part of the problem is with the way Mr. Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops. He should have held talks with the stakeholders, including Turkey, Russia and Kurds, before taking a decision. Or he could have used his intent to pull out from Syria as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from other countries involved in the civil war. In the event, the abrupt announcement has become a concession to Turkey, which was hamstrung by U.S. presence in the Kurdish-populated region in pursuing its own military options. In practical terms, the U.S. has three options. One, it could go ahead with the unilateral pull-out irrespective of what Turkey does. This would leave the Kurds at the mercy of Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish troops. Two, Mr. Trump can walk back on his decision and continue to station troops in Syria, influencing, at least partially, the outcome of the civil war. This is unlikely given his aversion to keeping troops indefinitely in Syria (and other West Asian conflict zones). Three, the U.S. can stagger the withdrawal and pursue talks with Turkey, Russia and the Syrian government to reach an agreement to guarantee the protection of the Kurds and the defeat of the IS in Syria. Mr. Bolton’s Ankara trip may have failed to extract any assurances from Mr. Erdogan, but Washington should continue to keep diplomatic channels open to ensure that the pull-out is done in an orderly fashion.
Election-season temptations for populist spending pose a challenge to the economy
The first advance estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2018-19 released by the Central Statistics Office on Monday paints a mixed picture of the economy. The GDP growth rate for the full year is projected to be at 7.2%, which is significantly higher than the growth rate of 6.7% achieved last year. Many sectors of the economy are projected to do better than they did last year in the aftermath of the twin shocks of demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. Sectors such as manufacturing and construction, for instance, are projected to grow at a healthy pace of 8.3% and 8.9%, respectively, both of which are higher than the growth rate of below 6% that each sector witnessed last year. Interestingly, the CSO’s growth estimate for 2018-19 appears conservative and is lower than the estimates made by institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the World Bank. A worrying trend in the economic data is the recent sequential deceleration in growth over consecutive quarters. According to the CSO, growth is likely to slow down considerably from the average of 7.6% recorded during the first half of the current fiscal year to around 6.8% in the second half. This sequential slowdown is expected to get reflected in the sectoral level data as well with sectors like manufacturing expected to slow down sharply in the second half of the year compared to the first half. On the brighter side, investment spending, which has ailed the economy for long, is expected to pick up finally. Gross fixed capital formation as a percentage of GDP is expected to reach 33%, the highest in three years.
One of the significant near-term risks to the economy is the general election that is expected to be held in May. Regime uncertainty associated with the election may put a halt to the nascent pick-up witnessed in investments as corporations might decide to hold back on big ticket investments until things clear up. A major risk in the medium to long term is the absence of meaningful structural reforms that are necessary to increase economic productivity combined with populist policies that eventually damage the economy. Another perennial risk is the over-dependence on imported oil, which makes growth heavily dependent on external events often beyond the control of the government. The projected slowdown in the second half of the fiscal despite the fall in global oil prices is a worrying sign. Ahead of the general election, the government may wish to help growth by boosting spending, but any such move would be ill-advised. With the fiscal deficit exceeding the Budget estimate by 15% in just the first eight months of the fiscal year, the government cannot crank up spending without severely affecting its finances, along with investor confidence in the economy.
Caught in the babble
Unless the political project of Hindutva is tackled head-on, pseudo-scientific claims will continue to be made
Much has been written about the nonsense that finds its way into the Indian Science Congress. There is a reason why pseudo-scientific beliefs are uttered at such prestigious events. They are shared by politicians in power and this inspires their repetition despite the widespread criticism they receive every time they are aired in public. Unscientific belief systems and grand political narratives have a symbiotic relationship.
The most infamous examples of this relationship in the near past are the eugenics project that had Nazi Germany in its thrall and Lysenkoism in Stalin’s Soviet Union. As the author Siddhartha Mukherjee eloquently explains in his book, The Gene: An Intimate History, these two projects positioned themselves as paradigmatic opposites apropos the science of genetics. The former emphasised “selective breeding” of human beings to achieve “desired characteristics” by working on genetic engineering, while the latter rejected Mendelian inheritance and the concept of the gene itself. Both these belief systems served their ideological state apparatuses well — eugenics fit well with the glorification of the “perfect Aryan race” and Nazi ideology, while Lysenkoism and its belief in what Mukherjee calls the “complete pliability” of identity served the totalitarian collectivisation project launched by Stalin.
In India’s case, the belief systems are less consequential but equally problematic. Repeatedly, there is talk of a “glorious past” described in Hindu mythology, which is uncritically taken as fact. These “facts” can only be understood if it is assumed that the technological advancements of today were already achieved in the past. It is also the same epistemology that drives these belief systems to attribute miraculous powers to cow urine and to promote research on how dung and urine can cure cancer.
The political project that these belief systems are bound with is, of course, Hindutva, that bases itself on a monistic version of Brahminical Hinduism, whose apogee was supposedly in ancient India. The warriors of Hindutva in the Sangh Parivar therefore seek to revive the “glorious ancient Hindu past” in a modern, technological world. This project seeks to identify with the instrumentalism of the technological progress achieved today without having to engage with the phenomena that brought about modernity. Western Enlightenment that emphasised reason, pluralism and a grounding in philosophies that go beyond abstract metaphysics is therefore anathema. Also unacceptable is the idea that profound achievements in areas such as astronomy and mathematics in ancient India were a product of contested ideologies and philosophies that included materialist and non-Vedic thought. Unless the political project of Hindutva is tackled head-on ideologically, we will continue to receive more pearls of unscientific wisdom.
Has India earned the number one spot in Test cricket?
The victory in Australia suggests the sport’s momentum could stay with India
The answer to this can be confirmed by simply checking the rankings, but where’s the fun in that? Instead of surrendering the joy of the game to an avalanche of data, sometimes relying on instinct is welcome.
Let’s apply a comparative hypothesis: Which international team would fans, donning their impartial hats, want to watch? The answer for me? India. The current team brings enviable qualities to the Test arena. This verdict is based less on the pioneering and comprehensive 2-1 away series win over Australia, their first in 71 years, and more on the team’s relatively new holistic approach. They play with soul and a sense of respect, seen in how they walked around the boundary to thank fans after defeating Australia by 137 runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Playing the team card
Yes, the incumbent Australians were vulnerable and India seized the opportunity to punish them, but the Indian team also lost the Test series in South Africa and England last year. This side, like New Zealand in January 2013 under captain Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson, had an epiphany in South Africa 12 months earlier.
Coach Ravi Shastri alluded to it in the post-match press conference in Sydney. At one point they decided “there’s a certain brand of cricket we’re going to play… we’re going to find out what suits the team best and take it forward from there”. Captain Virat Kohli also struck a chord with New Zealand fans now acclimatised to Kane Williamson’s selfless approach.
When asked to single out the best contribution in the India-Australia series, the skipper played the team card. He said the 66 balls faced by Hanuma Vihari to see off the new ball on Boxing Day in Melbourne was “as big as anyone getting a 100”. This came straight from the Williamson playbook. If Kohli comes anywhere near maintaining those sentiments long term, his tenure will be revered.
The Kohli factor
The Indian team is formidable and watchable. Their capabilities have been obvious in Australia. Cheteshwar Pujara and Jasprit Bumrah were especially unstoppable. However, the most important human component to any sustained success will be Kohli. His playing ability has been enhanced with the captaincy, and he is among the most powerful leaders of any sports team worldwide. I witnessed the energy he can generate during the New Zealand-India Test at Eden Gardens in 2016. Kohli stood in the slip cordon and raised his palms skyward. The higher they went the louder the crowd roared. He was a human amplifier.
If Kohli embraces Indian fans’ love of the game and defends against slipping into a cult of personality, he will become a captain loved at home and respected abroad. At 30, he’s a poster child for a savvy generation of Indian millennials. They know the power they wield, and they defer to no one. He only has to avoid getting lured into a narcissistic echo chamber and believing the hype.
The coup in Australia suggests the sport’s momentum could stay with India for the foreseeable future, given the talent on show anywhere from the Ranji Trophy to the Indian Premier League. The IPL investment has matured over 11 editions into a jewel, albeit a gaudy one, on the cricketing landscape. For local players to get an annual audience with the world’s best is of priceless development value.
If the qualities of empathy, passion and independence are replenished in the Indian dressing room to feed the team culture, and the combative approach of the players simmers but never boils over into poisonous aggression, a dynasty could be propagated.
India has to be at the top for a certain period to be accorded the tag of best
History has been made. I followed the Test series closely and was hardly surprised by the reactions in the media. Indian cricket was on a high after winning its first ever Test series in Australia. True, this has taken a long time, but I must give credit to Virat Kohli’s team for having set new a benchmark. India first went to Australia in 1947-48 to play against Don Bradman’s invincible team and did not cause any embarrassment to its supporters. After that there were some fascinating contests between India and Australia, but it took the current team to achieve the much-awaited result. Does the feat make this team the best ever or the number one team in the world? I don’t think so.
Need for consistency
To become the best team you have to achieve longevity in the field. Cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble are considered greats because they performed over a period of time. Virat Kohli certainly falls in that category because he has excelled consistently in all formats of the game. We will not compare him with the others but hail him as one of the greats of the current era. I am sure connoisseurs of the game would agree that you have to be at the top for a certain period of time to be accorded the tag of best or greatness.
One swallow does not make a summer. This applies to the current team. It beat Australia in Australia, a much laudable effort, but it lost the Test series in South Africa (1-2) and England (1-4) last year. Let me add that India played some outstanding cricket in 2018 but you can’t set aside the defeats in South Africa and England. The process of rankings that the International Cricket Council follows is one thing, but my simple understanding is that India has to win a series in South Africa and again in England (the last time it did was in 2007) to be truly acknowledged as the best team in the world.
Defeating a depleted side
There is no need to get carried away. It is well-known that Australia was a depleted side and India, going by the pre-tour expectations, was strong on paper. Under Kohli’s captaincy, India has emerged as both highly competitive and competent to make history. I remember the 1977-78 team under Bishan Singh Bedi taking on a depleted Australian but failing to win the series. A key factor then was some poor umpiring. It must be accepted that this was not the best Australian team to play a home series. True, it was not India’s fault that it was playing a weak opposition, but you can’t discount a fact which even former Australian greats have noted: This was a very weak batting line-up.
I had commentated on the Melbourne Test in 1981 when India pulled off a magnificent victory against a strong Australian team. The win at Adelaide in 2003 was memorable. And how can one forget the victory at Perth in 2008? It remains one of India’s finest against Australia. All those wins came against highly competitive opponents. India’s win against New Zealand in 1967-68 under Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was its first Test series triumph overseas, just as the latest one under Kohli was the first Test series win in Australia. Both, to my mind, are equally laudable as indeed were India’s first series wins in West Indies and England in 1971. Let’s applaud this team’s victory but never forget that earlier victories were no less significant.
Ratings are more about numbers and do not present the full picture
India won a Test series Down Under for the first time. This historic feat has expectedly created euphoria. Everybody is rating the team as the best in the world. Is India the champion of Test cricket? Is it the best team in the world? The answer is a little complicated.
The limits of statistics
The International Cricket Council ranking system has already put India at the top of the table. Though this system takes into consideration the relative strengths of various teams and the different playing conditions the world over, the ratings are more about numbers and do not present a perfect picture. Cricket is a game that has its own vagaries beginning with the toss and the different type of pitches and atmospheric conditions. In fact, the intrigue that every session of Test cricket presents to the fans is the most attractive feature of the format. That’s why I am not convinced that you can evaluate a team on the basis of statistics alone.
In terms of statistics, India is the best, but mostly at home. In contemporary cricket, most teams are unbeatable at home and we saw that when India played in South Africa and England last year and the home teams won convincingly. The issue is not winning at home but failing overseas. India has a history of failing overseas. The team has been referred to by critics as tigers at home but rabbits outside the subcontinent. Of course, one can argue that times are changing. The series win in Australia is a welcome change for Indian cricket, a change that has taken a long time.
The major reason for India’s failure overseas has been the weakness of the batsmen in dealing with swing and seam; the batsmen were ill-equipped in terms of technique to tackle bounce. The team also lacked the bowling ammunition to retaliate, because spin was not going to take the team forward when playing away. All that changed in Australia.
Losing to South Africa and England did not really mean India was swept aside. There were moments of dominance for India. Virat Kohli’s team had learnt to fight. The toss played a significant role in deciding the course of the match in England, where the conditions, other than the pitch, play a crucial part. The batsmen could not give the bowlers a shield of 300 runs and it impacted the contest.
Conquering teams overseas
A champion team must conquer the opponents in their backyards. India has not done that, unlike teams led by Clive Lloyd and Richie Benaud. Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ was the ultimate team. Steve Waugh was the modern Alexander in cricket until he ran into the Sourav Ganguly-led team in India in 2001. India today looks the best-balanced team in the world after the success in Australia. No team in today’s cricket has beaten all its opponents in away series, which puts all the teams on the same pedestal. India can claim to have the best bowling attack for all conditions. It can also claim to have the world’s best batsman (Virat Kohli) and fast bowler (Jasprit Bumrah). The journey to become the best has begun but we need to wait before pronouncing India to be the best in the world in comprehensive terms.