Friday, April 25, 2008

Arjun Singh prepares to strike

Arjun Singh is at it again. Having conquered the combined might of IITs and IIMs, he now believes he can get away by introducing quotas in private colleges and universities.

Some facts on the 93rd Amendment to the Constitution, as reported in The Telegraph:

The 93rd amendment altered Article 15 of the Constitution — prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste or gender — by adding a clause on reservations in educational institutions.

“Nothing in this article.... shall prevent the state from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes or for the SCs and STs in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the state...,” the inserted clause says.

Note the last part "including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the state". The report further states:

But constitutional expert P.P. Rao, who was on the panel of lawyers that challenged the OBC quota law in the Supreme Court, said that reservations in private institutions were “illegal, as things stand now”.

“Of the five judges who heard the OBC reservation bill, one clearly said reservations in private educational institutions cannot be allowed. The other four reserved their comments as the case before them did not require them to speak on the matter. So the private sector quotas are illegal, as things stand now,” he said.
I fail to see how, when the Amendment clearly mentions "including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the state". So, probably, we shall see another round of demonstrations, which in all probability will turn out to be entirely futile.

Now, let's take another look at it. The Constitution guarantees "equal opportunities" etc. The current government (as well as the preceding governments) have failed to provide the most basic opportunity, i.e. access to good school education. They have, however, decided to make higher education more accessible to people across all castes. Fine. That's what the constitution says. So, they decided that institutes like IITs and IIMs (which where established by the government, and which are run largely by the taxpayer's money) should have reservations. I am not sure that I agree with the government (*for the institutes of national importance*), but the Supreme Court has spoken and so I will hear it and accept it.

Now, they want to introduce reservations in the private colleges, whether aided, or un-aided by the state. They may well use the constitution as a shield and defend it. But, here's the question. Why should the government be allowed to dictate a private institution, which it does not support at all, to bow to it's whims? They can very well ask, nay order, the people running the private colleges not to discriminate, but what right do they have in ordering the private colleges to incorporate reservations?

Can you order a person, whom you dont pay, and who is not your employee to bend to your whims? You cannot. You can ask a person to follow common set of rules (eg traffic rules, the clauses in IPC, etc), but not your whims. Rules are made so as to ensure that in enjoying one's own fundamental right, he/she should not curb others from enjoying their fundamental rights. In my book, if a private unaided college discriminates on the basis of caste, or religion, they ARE violating a fundamental right. As long as they don't indulge in this, they are not violating any rights.

One can argue all they want, but the truth is the government will get away with this by telling, in effect, that their whims are the new rules.

Education is a fundamental right and it is incumbent on the state to ensure everyone, whether SC/ST/OBC/GC has access to education. To ensure it, the state decided to incorporate reservations in all the universities and institutes run by the state. But to ask unaided private colleges to incorporate this is a clear admission of dereliction of duty by the government. It has to force private organizations to incorporate reservations only because the state has failed to provide adequate opportunities. Arjun Singh, in effect, has handed his own ministry and the government a rather damning report card.

At the end of the day, the government will be judged by the people. Come 2009, and we will know what the people think of Arjun Singh and his policies and the Congress government.

A word of advice to other political parties: Dont shout yourself hoarse on reservations. Let Arjun Singh eat his cake. If you want to win an election, go to the masses and work on their pressing needs. India, unfortunately, has a greater chunk of people who dont even make it to middle school (let alone colleges), than people who go to colleges (all castes put together).

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