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'The government is hopelessly wrong'
George Iype
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August 10, 2006
The government's proposal to introduce a new reservation scheme for the Other Backward Classes, OBCs, in elite educational institutions has been a heated issue of debate in recent months.

Medical and engineering students across the country descended on the streets protesting the new quota regime. They received unstinted support from a large number of former students of the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management.

The Forum they have jointly created -- Youth For Equality -- says it now has 17,578 members in 1,226 cities and 7,979 institutions.

Forum members declare they want to prevent the government from pushing through its agenda of caste-based reservations.

An active member of Youth For Equality is Anup Varma, a senior IT professional who works for a major IT company in Bangalore.

In an exclusive interview to Managing Editor George Iype, Varma, a 1982 graduate of IIT-Kharagpur and 1986 post-graduate of IIM-Bangalore, discusses why Youth For Equality is against reservation.

What forced people like you to join hands with the protesting students against reservation?

I was moved by the despair and frustration that our youth expressed when the legislation was proposed. The country can progress only when the people, particularly the youth, can live in the hope that there will be ample and equitable opportunities for rewards and achievements for the hard work they were willing to put in.

I thought the proposed legislation was creating despair more than nurturing hope and it was going to cause a permanent scar on our society by creating a divide.

So, rather than merely talking about the issue in my living room, I thought I must do something about it. When I talked with friends in my professional life and in my IIT and IIM alumni fraternity, I saw that almost all of them were in agreement with my view and many of them, like me, have begun doing something, however small, to support the cause espoused by Youth For Equality.

Today, I and many people like me are supporters, advisors and patrons of Youth For Equality.

The government says reservation enforces equality and provides justice to the underprivileged and poorer sections of our society. Your organisation is also called Youth for Equality. What then should equality be?

The government is hopelessly wrong in its assertion. If underprivileged and poor sections of society were to be the beneficiaries of a government policy, there would be hardly any person against such a policy.

Do all poor and underprivileged people belong to one particular caste or religion? Are all people of a particular caste poor and underprivileged? The answer to both questions is 'No'.

So the fact that the government still asserts that their policy is targeted at the disadvantaged amply demonstrates that there are overt and covert objectives of their policy -- overt is to sound pro-poor, and covert is to garner votes by dividing society.

Providing benefits only to a particular caste, which is determined by birth, and not to the total population of the disadvantaged is blatantly unfair, biased and absurd.

Youth For Equality stands for justice and equality, justice so that every Indian has equal opportunities. We are born with our differences and inequalities vis-a-vis our financial status, our genes, our mental and physical strength and so on.

Equality as a concept is about governance, about equal opportunities being available to all, about reform, growth and changes that fosters a just social system and a fair economic system that is set up for rewarding those who work well and add value.

Does Youth for Equality want the complete abolition of reservation?

Youth For Equality subscribes to the view expressed by Dr Amartya Sen in a recent India Today article: 'Rather than being "for" or "against" reservations, public policy demands more empirically informed reasoning. We have to insist on judging every one of these policy issues with as much dispassionate reasoning about causes and consequences as we are able to muster. Many of the basic questions that would provide a reasoned understanding of identity politics and sectional reservations remain inadequately explored. A priori attitudes, in one direction or another, cannot help to settle debates that demand empirically informed resolution.'

We are saying two things.

First, what the government proposes to do -- reserving additional 27 per cent of seats in educational institutions to certain castes -- is completely wrong from all points of view. It must be right though from the political point of view, for the government.

Second, what is the right or even the best solution needs deep thought and analysis and, please, without any politics.

We are not a unifocal organisation. We are not 'for' or 'against' reservation per se.

We want the proposed legislation to be scrapped as a first step. We want a detailed analysis done to understand what investments have been made in education and what have been their returns, what investments need to be done over the next 5, 10 years at various levels particularly primary and secondary education, whether reservations in the last six decades have achieved their stated objectives, whether reservations have been reaching the right people and so on.

This should be done by an expert committee of competent, apolitical and well-intentioned people. This study should then recommend methods of identifying the disadvantaged irrespective of caste, religion, gender and region, as also the appropriate and effective affirmative action that needs to be taken.

When those actions are taken by a caring and responsible government, not a politically clever one, reservations should become unnecessary over a period of time -- exactly what Dr Ambedkar himself had envisaged.

I may add that Pandit Nehru wrote a letter in June 1961 to all chief ministers saying, 'I dislike all reservations.' Rajiv Gandhi, our dynamic and youngest prime minister, wrote in December 1990 that he wanted India to be a caste-free society.

Anup Varma can be contacted at

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