A sound defense stands on the legs of sound economics and politics. The recent proposal by the Indian government to increase the quotas in elite educational institutions and extend job reservations to the private sector needs serious analytical examination. There is no doubt that the discrimination of the caste system is and was a serious impediment to the equitable and deserved advancement of a large section of the nation's population. It cries out for adequate redress. The key question is in what way.
The first decision is whether we as a society want equality of opportunity or equality of results. No thinking person with any desire for justice would have a quarrel with the first premise. From the ancient adage of "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam" to the more modern Rawl's theory of justice, every sane person wants a level playing field and the deck not to be stacked in favor of any privileged person. The failure of this primary goal needs correction even before anything else, as the recent court cases against some prominent film actors, politicians' progeny and fanatic mobs illustrate. If the objective of the government is to achieve equality of opportunity, then to ameliorate past historical injustices the children of backward classes should be given subsidized nutrition, advanced special coaching in education to overcome prior handicaps and compete on merit for admission to educational institutions and jobs. The current system of reservations has clearly added to the nation's bureaucratic nightmares and increased corruption by putting less competent persons in positions of power and lowered the standards for physicians, educators and administrators.
If the purpose of the proposed new legislation is to attain equality of results because the widely prevalent prejudices in the private sector make equal opportunity impossible to achieve, the idea though laudable is impractical and likely to lead to the same disaster that the government institutions and public sector enterprises have become. First and foremost it is antithetical to human nature which does not tolerate equality of results that stifles initiative, talent and effort. The Hindu, Jain and Buddhist tirades against desire, Plato's prescriptions for guarding the guardians, Christ's proclamation that it is easier for a camel than a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle and the Communist ideology of The Soviet Union and China have all failed to create a utopian paradise in the world. On the contrary, the above ideals have failed dismally to change human nature and create a viable social entity genuinely and meticulously practicing their tenets.
If the purpose is to create a larger middle class amongst the discriminated group because they will be pushed and pulled up the economic ladder and change their thinking and inculcate the new values to their children who will become indistinguishable from the rest of the population, then the available experiments of decades in India and America do not back that hope. The path of history is littered with the failed futile efforts to legislate morality. As many of us suspect, this increased reservation is a ploy to buy the votes of the Dalits and will fail like the previous tawdry attempts of the V.P. Singh government and leave in its aftermath a more corrupt and incompetent government and private sector, to the further detriment of the nation in the present dog eat dog environment of globalization and neo-liberal dogma.
India already has the dubious distinction amongst nations of having the largest percentage of its state and central legislators charged with criminal offences. It is the nature of all bureaucracies and elected officials to perpetuate their tenure. In this they are no different from all living creatures in their desire to avoid pain, prolong pleasure, survive and reproduce. What makes the problem an existential catastrophe is that the dishonest proclivities of the legislators are driven by an accelerating positive feedback from foolish factions. Thus we have linguistic, ethnic and religion based political parties unable to unite for national interest and encouraging India's fissiparous proclivities. They are oblivious and unconcerned by the storms brewing in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh on our borders and the insurgencies in Kashmir, the Northeastern states and the Maoist Naxalite problem in other states.
Finally to top all this, is the latest debacle of the government pressuring the Indian Supreme Court to issue a stay on clearing some Hindu temples and Muslim dargahs. As every Indian knows there are small structures often right in the middle of paved city roads predating the British. They didn't want to cause discontent while exploiting the colony and built the roads leaving these structures intact right in the middle. These are not historical monuments or architectural masterpieces. A recent decision by the Baroda city and Gujarat state authorities to clear such nuisance obstructions led to communal Muslim riots and deaths. Instead of supporting the city planners the Central government took it to the court and twisted the arms of the justices to issue a stay order. This is how catering to factions can destroy democracies. The Bush government's tax cuts and genuflexion for corporate power is another such example...
There are interesting parallels in evolution. Darwin first proposed that the ornate feathers of the peacock were driven by female choice and selection even to the detriment of flying capacity and survival of the individual and the species. A more catastrophic example is the extinction of the Irish elk, the largest species of deer. The deer grew and shed their antlers annually. They were used in ritual fights for mating and were an overt manifestation of the male Irish elk's fighting ability. A potential opponent could figure out another male's fighting prowess by their size. A female could make her mating choice on the same basis thus ensuring male progeny with similar antler size by mating with the well endowed father. This female choice drove a rapid increase in their size until they had a breadth of twelve feet and weighed ninety pounds. They got entangled in the vegetation and proved a heavy burden to re-grow annually and carry, that led to the extinction of the males and thus the species. Similar speculations explain the demise of the saber-tooth and the woolly mammoth due to their large tusks becoming a fatal handicap.
The above story is a warning to avoid dis-proportionally large expenditure for defense but also how unthinking kowtowing to vested factional interests can lead to extinction. We have examples of this in Georgia of the former Soviet Union and what is happening to the sole superpower America whose legislators and the executive branch are driven by lobbyists of vested interests ranging from multinationals to other nation states. It has led to economic time-bombs of hollowed out manufacturing and rising trade, current account and budget deficits and foreign policy debacles like the invasion of Iraq and now possibly Iran. The Soviet Union, a superpower lost its preeminent status by overspending on defense and neglecting its economy. Pakistan is heading in the same direction as is the current lone superpower.
The penchant to assure their re-election has led to gerrymandering in America and favoring vested interests of multinationals with rising economic disparity and a spiral of decreasing livable wages. The same desire for perpetuating their power by garnering captive vote banks led Indian legislators to ignoring illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and appeasing minorities with decisions like the Shah Banu case and subsidies for religious pilgrimage in a secular state. The current sop for increased and private sector reservations is not motivated by high ideals or rectifying grievances past or present, but by a selfish desire to be re-elected irrespective of damage to the nation's competitiveness or economy. Evolution and history have clear examples of what the eventual outcome is likely to be. The American democracy was formulated to safeguard the interest of the minority of haves from the onslaught of the tyranny of the majority of have-nots as Madison, Hamilton and John Jay ' the three authors of the Federalist Papers unambiguously stated and acted upon as high office holders.
In India the nexus of politicians with criminals and the appeasement to capture voting factions, the imposition of neo-liberal policies and a climate of corruption engenders an even more lethal milieu. The moral of this piece is that choices that favor defense over general economic welfare and are hijacked by factional interests often result in extinction of species and democracies