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Home > News > India@60 > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan

'Reservation is a storm in a teacup'

January 24, 2007

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The issue of reservation of seats in institutes of higher studies brought students from the middle class onto the streets in widespread protests last year.

In the second of a multiple-part interview, former chief election commissioner T N Seshan tells Shobha Warrier that reservation is just a political tool, but quotas in the private sector will make India less competitive globally.

Part I: 'There is reason to be less cynical today'

We spoke about education and that brings us to the most contentious issue among the middle class right now. Do you agree with reservation in higher education?

My opinion is, between the media and the rest, everybody is making too much noise about reservation. Political personalities use reservation as one more plank to catch votes. Their heart is not bleeding for the poor. Their heart is bleeding for the next election and votes.

The people who oppose reservation are doing so without understanding what it is. Please tell me, if the number of seats is adequate for everybody, where is the question of reservation hurting anybody? You say, the value of an IIT degree will come down.

Listen, the man who employs can find out whether you are recruited on merit or reservation in five minutes. So, why are you making so much noise about reservation?

You mean it is unnecessary?

Yes, it is unnecessary. I need an answer to the question, is reservation necessary? They have had 15 per cent reservation for scheduled castes, and 7.5 (per cent) for Scheduled Tribes for the last 45 years. Have all the Scheduled Castes and Tribes come up?

That is because the creamy layer is grabbing all the benefits.

So, the creamy layer has come up. The same thing is going to happen to this 27 per cent too. In the case of OBCs too, all the benefits will be cornered by a small number of people only. The other large number of people will not get any benefits.

But nobody is bothered about it because taking away the creamy layer is something even Veerappa Moily (the Congress leader heading the committee studying reservations) is not willing to do.

He said, 'We have left that to the government.' I don't understand this. How can he leave it to the government? If he is asked to look into it, he must say, either there is a creamy layer problem and this is the way to tackle it, or he must say, there is no creamy layer problem.

So, my question is, has reservation done good? You have got 50 years of experience with 15 per cent of reservation for SCs and 7.5 (per cent) for STs. Some people got jobs, and the good people have become better people. Some fellow said the other day it enabled K R Narayanan's daughter to get into the Indian Foreign Service. So, that is what is happening.

My point is, reservation is a storm in a teacup. It will neither help nor hurt.

So, should India continue with something that has not benefited the real needy for 50 years?

If the politicians want votes, they will continue.

So, is the issue only political?

Yes, it is only political. There is no sociological basis at all. What are the people of AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) who went on dharna talking about? If 27 per cent of seats in higher education institutions are given to OBCs, how does it hurt them? If you are from the general category, and if there are enough seats, why should you bother?

To politicians, it is part of the political agenda to say we are giving 27 per cent to OBCs.

It is also the political agenda of the United Progressive Alliance government to have job quotas in the private sector.

Hold on, hold on. The politicisation of the agenda of reservation is done by all parties.

But it is the UPA that is talking about job quota in the private sector.

It is only one-upmanship. It is like, if you can do that, I can do this.

Where will this one-upmanship lead to?

If you compel companies to do it, and if it is a small number, companies will engage such people. But if it goes beyond a point, they will say, I cannot carry a lot of baggage.

It's like this, when they want 10 people, you are compelling them to take two on reservation. Then, they are left with only eight people to do the job. So, they will be forced to take 12 people. Therefore, the cost of manufacturing will go up. So, what they will do is, they will abandon India and go away to Singapore or China or wherever they feel like.

India will become less competitive globally.

Part III: 'Americans think democracy is like giving a lollipop'


The Rediff Interviews


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