During the Constituent Assembly debates, B. R. Ambedkar pleaded that reservation be allowed for a fixed period of 40 years only, with no possibility of extension. Typical of our short-sightedness, the Constituent Assembly rejected his wise suggestion and said that it should be for ten years only, but could be extended if necessary. Sixty years have passed and there is no hope of the system coming to an end. It is a fact — though few dare to admit it — that, now, virtually all upper caste politicians are scared of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, especially the SCs. From abject helplessness a few decades ago, the SCs/STs have become so assertive that they are all set to get reservations in promotions too — on top of admissions to educational institutions, and for entry to government jobs.

When reservations are introduced in promotions, the beneficiaries will invite much ill-will upon themselves. When a person is selected on merit basis, those who lose will not complain, but when a person is promoted only because of the accident of caste, the rejected will feel bitter about it. This can destroy institutions.

Government policy is reinforcing caste divisions in an increasingly liberal society. There is hardly a Brahmin family that does not have inter-caste marriages, and successful ones too. In pursuing a casteless society, our rulers have only reinforced caste where it should matter least — in national governance.

There are now two divisions within the SCs/STs — those who have already benefited from reservations and the poor ones who have not. That intra-caste division can lead to serious rifts. The best solution is to shift to class-based divisions and ensure fair entry in primary and secondary schools. It is a fact that even the poor prefer private schools because, even if unqualified, the teachers are present. Then, why should the government not offer freedom to private schools to charge whatever fees they like, on the condition that they will admit an equal number of poor children — irrespective of caste — free?

That is how Harvard and Stanford have become great — they admit rich, passable students for the highest fee they are willing to pay and use that surplus to support poorer students. The solution to discrimination is not discrimination, but supporting every poor bright child, irrespective of caste — from the youngest age. That policy will help most SCs/STs and others, too. The prevailing complaints against the SCs/STs will disappear. As for reservation in promotions, it is a no-no. That will help only the Chinese!

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