Musings of a Spectator

Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Friday, May 26, 2006

What then must we do?

The Prime Minister declares - Reservation issue is settled.

Contradictory signs emerge from two of the Cabinet Ministers - Mr. Sibal voting for gradual increase in the quotas whereas Mr. Arjun Singh - declares that the quota shall be implemented fully from 2007 - also corrects the notions - reservations and increasing the seats in educational institutes are not interlinked. And the students and their supporters, despite all these negative signals, decide to stage a fight till their last energy resources are down.

Way back in 1886, Leo Tolstoy first put the above question: "What then must we do?" having seen the misery of ordinary Russian people thinking of a way out. Since the whole Reservations issue started out as a solution to bridging social inequality - and the solution offered (here, Reservations) is being questioned, it serves well for us to think of a solution to the root problem itself. There are long term solutions offered by people which are all fine, but like everyone knows - the difficulty is in implementing it. Is there a better solution?

A few days ago, I was talking to one of my Profs, who gave me a wonderfully constructed analogy to explain the "Reservations" as a policy. I felt it gave nice insights. So here it is.

I must warn that this analogy shall make sense only if the focus is on the Social scenario it tries to explain more than the Physics laws that cause the situation.

All right, so there is a pond full of water. Our goal is to make sure that all the water of the pond is frozen. As the weather gets cold, slowly the pond water also cools. Slowly ice starts forming. This ice, being lighter than water, comes on top of the water and forms a layer over the pond's surface, covering the whole of it. A thick sheet of ice covers the whole pond if the weather is sufficiently cold. Now, once the sheet of ice forms, water below the ice sheet, though it remains cool, as compared to the time before the ice formed, it never converts to ice. Even if the weather is colder than it was earlier, makes no difference to the water below it.
In the meantime, the layer of ice gets covered with dust, leaves etc. to an extent that we can say all this forms a rough layer over the layer of ice.

So, since our interest is to get the whole pond freeze, we think of removing the rough dust layer and the layer of ice, so that fresh ice forms. But, despite our strong efforts, the removal of the dusty layer itself is a very difficult thing, because it resists as strongly as it can. And we may not even reach to the smooth ice layer and remove it, before which the dusty layer rearranges itself.

That was the analogy. Think of Reservations as the cold weather. Think of the pond getting frozen as bringing in social equality by education provided to all. Systemic flaw in the system keeps the water below the smooth icy layer to feel the cold always, and have the hope that it shall turn to ice someday, but it never happens!
That's the order of reservations.

The dusty layer exemplifies the - "muft mein mil rahaa hain, to ham kyon chchodein" attitude of the people, who are ready to fight tooth and nail to ensure that they enjoy the benefits of the cooling atmosphere.

Now, there is sufficient motivation for many of the political leaders in coming with ideas like the Reservations - which can keep people who are supposedly its beneficiaries under perennial hope that they would get benefitted out of it. And certainly, assuming that the political leaders had an option of choosing a method in which both public service and power go hand-in-hand - they would definitely opt for that. But, unfortunately, whenever it comes to the question of social inequality - they have very few ideas through which they can seemingly make people believe that they are getting the benefits out of the system and Reservations is one which makes every person entailed with the benefit feel empowered, whether or not in the qualitative definition it is empowerment.Whether or not it empowers the people who it set out to empower.

Right, the question was "What then must we do?" - and I was wondering, can we think of a policy which is as populist as Reservations, but at the same time which creates a right platform for executing the long-term solution of providing good schooling to all. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yes, I walked!

On completing 2 years at the helm of affairs, PM Manmohan Singh said: "running a government is not difficult, building a nation certainly is. This is what our people expect of us. We must never fail them".

We have got a Prime Minister who is a first rate thinker, and whose words always create a sense of respect for him.

Yet, on the same day, he had to plead, at some other place, with the students agitating against quotas for OBCs: "I request all those who are agitating on the quota issue to call off their agitation and have faith in our government to protect the legitimate interests of all sections of our student community," - mark the words faith in our government . As a matter of fact, the students rejected the PM's appeal, since, apparently, they did not find the actions of the Government restoring their faith.

The issue that found the Government wanting: Reservations for the OBCs.

Do read Mr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta's (former Member-Convener of National Knowledge Commission) resignation open letter here.

To begin with, I wish to state that I took part in one of the protest walks held in Hyderabad (the first one in Hyderabad, till now). I belong to a community that supports a research-bent of mind among people. Here's my prime reason for going out to protest:

Reservations act as negative catalysts towards finding
creative solutions for the problem of social inequality.

Reservations as a policy is quite old and it stinks of
intellectual laziness from the policy makers.

I oppose intellectual laziness of any form.

But for the last one, the first two statements require explanation. I'll begin my views starting from the analysis based on the 93rd Amendment Act, which our good HRD Minister, always reminds us is an "enabling resolution" to the reservations.

Please read more about the 93rd Amendment Act and its implications here.

Any person who goes through the statement of 93rd Amendment Act would wonder if the Constitution restricts the scope of "...special provision, by law..." provided by the State to the backward classes only to "Reservations" - which is more or less what mos t of my friends who support Reservations think or more so, they are made to believe, when they say "Reservations is our Constitutional Right".

The Constitution makers always left enough scope for alternate arrangements. And it is sick that if at all we talk of "special provisions" - we talk of Reservations alone! May be we put a fullstop to our "imaginations" thanks to no public dialogue on what could be "other" creative ways of tackling the issue of social inequality. Reservations have effectively put a blanket on the scope of one's imaginations, which I despise.

Going by the traditional wisdom that I gained from the history as well as some of the elder people I met, I do not want to make the mistake of understanding the solution to reducing social inequality as lying with the Government or the society alone. It requires a collective action from both the Government and the Society to work together.

All the privileged sections of the society have a responsibility towards helping the socially backward classes.

Today, whatever the way the people have expressed their views on paper or through the memoranda they submitted to the President, Governor et al. - the creme de la creme of the country is protesting against a policy which is actually turning them "deaf and dumb" towards the responsibility that they are ready to own, if only given a proper direction.

I believe - Harnessing the best potentials of the youth of this country could be best done by an integrated plan that comes from the Government and Government alone. No NGO nor any other organisation has the reach that the Government can boast of.

If the Government and the leadership can give that direction, then I do believe that there are sufficient peer-motivating agents to keep the youth momentum towards uplifting the socially backward classes on.

Respected Prime Minister, the country's calling for your leadership.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Call for a "One World Forum"

Arun Maria, Chairman, Boston Consulting Group has written an enlightening piece on Economics and the focus that it must take, you might as well check. Click here.

Some excerpts:

Economists tend to over-simplify their assumptions to enable mathematical modelling. For example, The Economist says, “Measuring profits is fairly straightforward; measuring environmental protection and social justice is not. The difficulty is partly that there is no single yardstick...How is any given success for environmental action to be weighed against any given advance in social justice, or, against any given change in profits? Measuring profits—the good old single bottom line—offers a pretty clear test of business success.”

This is sheer intellectual laziness.

In his book, Complexity, M Mitchell Waldrop describes a meeting between physicists and economists (with Nobel Prize winners on both sides) at the Santa Fe Institute some years ago. “As axioms, theorems and proofs marched across the projection screen, the physicists could only be awestruck at (the economists) mathematical prowess —awestruck and appalled. “They were almost too good,” says one, who remembers shaking his head in disbelief. “It seemed as though they were dazzling themselves with fancy mathematics, until they couldn’t see the forest for the trees—I thought they often weren’t looking at what the models were for, and what they did, and whether the assumptions were any good. In a lot of cases, what was required was just common sense.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

In Memory of John Kenneth Galbraith

Going through the collection of books of a close friend of mine, I came across this book called "The New Industrial State". Not having heard of this man earlier, I did not pay much attention, but the same evening, as I go through his obituaries, I realise the importance of his contributions to the world.

Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, former Ambassador to India, and long time Professor of Economics at Harvard died the day before yesterday (April 29th,2006). Here's a report in the Harvard Crimson about his death, which tells about his life as a Professor at Harvard.

"A prolific author, he wrote more than thirty books, but he will be best remembered for his seminal work, The Affluent Society, published in 1958.

The book challenged the conventional wisdom that free market economics would bring benefits to all. It became a standard text for liberal thinkers, to whom Galbraith was an intellectual icon"

"Many of Professor Galbraith's phrases - "affluent society", "conventional wisdom" and "countervailing power" - have become part of common language."

Shall hopefully write some review on this blog of his books some day.

May his soul rest in peace.