Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reservations - Atlas Shrugged Redux?

Any one who has read the Ayn Rand bestseller Atlas Shrugged realizes the one important message of that book. Man can move towards growth and a better civilization on one and only one premise- Ability and not Need can be its the driver.

Isn’t this the very premise we are breaking by bringing in more and more reservations today? We ask the politicians- the netas of today’s India why do you support reservations in educational institutions? And their only response- Because the students of the backward sections of the society need it. What has need got anything to do with getting into the most prestigious universities and colleges in the country .It is said that once you make it to the IITs, IIMs, AIIMS of the country your life is made. No wonder then that we have lakhs and lakhs of bright students from all over the country competing for those few thousand seats. For every one student that makes it there are at least 10000 who don’t. At least half of these 10000 students need to get into one of these institutions to make a good career and be able to support their families. Are the needs of the people from the higher castes of the society ,many of whom are also not well off ,different from the needs of the backward communities. Why take only cast considerations? Take economic considerations- Aren’t the needs of the below poverty line people > than the middle class > the rich. Then by that criteria no middle class kid can claim that his need is greater than that of the poorer kid. Take demographics next- It’s a fact that the sex ratios in these institutions are highly skewed in favor of the males. This isn’t a sexist comment but the plain truth. So should now there be a demand of greater need on the seats available by the female aspirants of the country?
There are many more such differentiating factors, that you can come up with where the aspirants will be divided into various classes and among the classes there will be a descending order of needs. Will the politicians keep on providing reservations for each such consideration? Which all needs will the politicians of the country support? On what basis will you decide whose needs are greater? A rich OBC class male students need or a middle class high caste female needs? Doesn’t look all black and white now, does it? What if you add three more variables then where will you end up, in deciding, who gets that precious seat? We will then be moving into the zone of total grayness and who wins then. Don’t you know? The one with the highest contacts or influence with the ruling authorities. Does all this help the students or the politicians then? Why don’t you see even a single political party come out against such a reservation policy? Cause they see it as one of the easiest and simplest way of obtaining the vote banks of these communities without doing any effort. You suddenly see that the politicians thus want reservations because they need this to hang onto their seats and earn more below the table money. Can the irony in this situation be any more tragic? Thus providing the seats on the basis of ability and ability alone can be the right answer.

The book mentions the worst code possible followed by the political system. From those with the highest abilities to those with the greatest needs. This is the biggest blunder any society can make. By penalizing the ones with the ability to provide growth and development to this nation for the sake of the ones with the greatest need aren’t we taking the steps towards total destruction? What happens when you penalize those with greater ability for the sake of those with the greatest need? You force them to suppress that ability and try to bring out their weaknesses in them so as to show a greater need. Pretty soon we will have everyone trying to outbid each other in the race to prove who is worse off. The more the number of people with ability who convert to those with greater needs the more will be the burden on those shrinking number of people with ability. What is at the end of such a line taken? How long do you think that they can continue bringing development to our nation in his way? It’s clearly a negative sum game in which not only those with ability loose out but as soon as they do so, so will those with the need .Thus the entire system collapses. Isn’t this the very code we are ready to adopt with the reservations?

It is the ones with the ability and only them (Of course only if they choose to make that effort) will the condition of the country improve as a whole. The nay sayers to my theory would first point out, but these people with ability don’t do anything for anyone but themselves and only if the students from their section of society are selected will these communities be able to stand on their own feet. My reply to this is just check the statistics of the number of students who have got through these colleges on reservation basis and see how many have uplifted their communities and compare it with those students with ability from these very sections of society and see what they have done for their country. You will have your own answer. If you take a look at our society today, who do you see are in the forefront of helping the cause of the backward classes? Is it Laloo Prasad Yadav and his gang of moochers or someone like Mr Narayan Moorthy or Mr Sunil Bharti Mittal. Or how does an institution like Arvind Nethralaya operate on profit in spite of providing about two-thirds of its operations free of charge? Do you think it would have been possible without them developing a brilliant method of providing the rich with a much better value than other eye hospitals and using that value to provide for the poorer sections. Ability, my dear friends can be the only motor of equitable growth. Reservations even with good intentions are only going to upset the whole cart.

The second point the pro reservation people bring up is that, those people with ability do things only for themselves. That according to me is the strongest argument AGAINST reservation. Only if the people with ability do things for themselves will real development take place. Why should they spend use their minds for doling out freebies. Again taking the example of Arvind Nethralaya , do you think it would last a week if it weren’t a profitable venture. Profit isn’t a dirty word my dear friends. It’s the just reward for ability and hardwork put in by man. They will exchange goods and services only with those people who provide them with equal value. Only then will there be a positive sum game and that’s the whole point isn’t it? A person with ability starts a business and provides employment those who don’t have any. You think big companies undertake Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities because they believe in social service and handouts? Bullshit- It makes plain business sense. They provide the people with the ability to help themselves because tomorrow when they can stand on their own feet they become loyal customers. That’s money in the bag ladies and gentlemen. I salute the first guy, who started this whole social responsibility thing. I’m sure he was one of the best businessmen in the world. That’s long term business strategy for you. No wonder the Tata’s of this world are revered by the people they support and continue to do excellent business well after more than 100 years of existence. That’s the only way forward because even though every one wants means well for others, only those with the ability can. So how dare a society try to stop those with ability for the sake of those with merely a need?

Why do you think that those students from the backward communities who have ability to get through these prestigious institutions on merit are protesting along with the anti-reservation students? Because they know once reservations come in then they will forever be branded as those privileged to get through due to reservations and cannot rightfully lay claim to their place in the society as the ones with ability.

Will just providing reservations in admissions be all the polity is looking for? What will happen next now? The next logical step in their minds will be reservation on jobs? The politicians have come up with a measure to increase the number of seats in these institutions as a measure to pacify the anti-reservation protesters (how these colleges can do it without sufficient infrastructure is anybody’s guess).But what will they do if they bring in reservation in jobs in the private sector too. Will they pass a directive to increase the number of jobs available? …….No? I didn’t think so too. How can they? when there aren’t enough jobs to go around anyway.
If we relegate our best brains to the second rung institutions we would see the best way of brain drain-literally. All the studies show that in all the 50 years of reservation policies not more than 5% of the backward sections have benefited from it. You want to help the students of backward communities to get into prestigious institutions, reduce the costs for applying to these institutions and its fees after getting selected but NOT the criteria on which they are selected. You provide a few thousand elite seats for a billion people and want to fill half of them with students of half the ability as compared to the rest. The best answer was given by Mr Babu who just started his own catering business after his course at IIM Ahmedabad (He got in through reservation seats, his parents run a road side food stall)-he said the only thing that the reservation gave him was a jump of one year. Had he not got in his third attempt, he would have cleared in the next. That’s the confidence in ones ability talking, not somebody’s need.
It has been seen that in spite of the much easier criteria for getting into these institutions most of these seats remain unfilled. Also the percentage of drop outs is highest from these reserved seats as they are not able to cope up with the rigors of the grueling courses.

Thus reservations cannot be the way forward for society because its premise is that Need and not Ability is the driver of growth. Like any scientific brain will tell you when you end up with contradictions, check your premises!!

Thus I think its time we retook the oath which will lead our country to the path of glory.
I swear – that I will never live for the sake of another man and, nor ask another man to live for mine.