UPA Buckles Under Corporate Pressure:

Reservations In Cold Storage Again

W e witnessed some futile attempts to whip up the ‘anti-Mandal' frenzy again recently, this time, around the proposal to ensure 27% reservation for OBC students in central educational institutions (from Central Universities to IITs and IIMs) as well as reservation in private sector jobs. It is true that the proposal for reservation in educational institutions came from the HRD Minister Arjun Singh, but in the face of open opposition by the managements of these elite central academic institutions, an influential section of the media, vocal elite classes and, above all, the corporate sector, the UPA Government, instead of firmly upholding the principled position, soon started searching for possible escape routes.

Though some sections of the media and RSS-affiliated organisations tried their best to whip up 1990s-like hysteria in university campuses, obviously a repeat performance could not succeed. It is clear that whatever debate was there regarding reservations, especially for OBCs, it was already settled in 1990s. As a result, attempts at reopening the debate do not appear to succeed. In fact, ensuring 27% reservation for OBC students in central educational institutions is only a logical step towards implementing Mandal Commission recommendations. And what is really surprising is the immense delay in coming up with this proposal whereas 27% job reservation for OBCs in government services was implemented in 1990 itself and it was approved by the Supreme Court in 1994. Barring a few exceptions, in most of the states, 27% reservation for OBC students has already been implemented in universities and other educational institutions. So, this hue and cry against its implementation in central institutions is beyond comprehension. Again, why there is so much opposition in the media? The reasons are very clear. In fact, the elite central institutions like IITs and IIMs are built by the Central government by providing huge budgetary allocations. The nature of the admission tests favours the students from elite and urban backgrounds. Barring exceptions, it is very difficult for students from rural areas, government schools and ordinary middle class families to get admission in these institutions. To qualify in the admission tests, the role of costly coaching institutions has become crucial and these are out of reach for students from the poor and weaker sections.

Obviously, 75-80% students of IITs and IIMs hail from upper middle and elite backgrounds. Recently, this elitisation has been further strengthened by manifold fee hikes and changing the rules and procedures for admission tests. It won't be wrong to say that indirectly these central educational institutions have been reserved for elite classes. Obviously, the elite classes are extremely perturbed by the proposal for 27% reservation, since after its implementation, around 50% seats will be reserved. However, it won't affect the fate of those lakhs of students from ordinary backgrounds, for whom the doors of these elite institutions have already been closed and would remain closed in future, too. The so-called ‘assault on talent' is a misplaced and misleading concept, because in these elite institutions, rich ‘talent' has already been crushing the poor ‘talent'.

The advocates of ‘meritocracy' must answer as to why they conveniently forget about ‘talent' when seats are sold in the name of NRI quotas or through massive fees hikes. Why don't they oppose reservation of education for the rich through privatisation of higher education? If they are so concerned about talent, why they don't advocate further extension of central educational institutions like IITs and IIMs by increasing their seats and reducing the fees?

Obviously, the real issue is privatisation and elitisation of higher education. It is the main obstacle, so far as common students are concerned, in getting quality higher education. But the policies of the UPA Government are further strengthening the process of privatisation and elitisation of higher education.

On the one hand, the UPA Government is advocating OBC reservation in central educational institutions while, on the other hand, it is depriving common students of their fundamental right to education by privatisation, commericalisation and elitisation. This exposes the real face of the UPA and puts a question mark over its sincerity towards reservations and social justice. Democratisation of educational institutions is nowhere on the agenda of the UPA Government. Be it the issue of reservation in central educational institutions or job reservation in private sector, the UPA Government has an eye on the ongoing Assembly elections in UP.

The way the Congress has become shaky in view of the sharp reaction from big business houses and elite classes, it seems impossible that the UPA Government would stick to its proposal, especially on job reservation in private sector. So, what is more probable is that the government may accept the ‘corporate package' of ‘social justice' in the private sector, offering the lollipop of facilities like training and scholarships etc. for OBCs and dalits.

Anand Pradhan