May 23, 2006Public Policy

His sincerity has outlived its utility

Dr Manmohan Singh is doing harm by hanging on to office

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Both well-meaning sympathisers and die-hard apologists of the UPA government’s bid to do India’s future in hold forth about making reservations irrelevant by increasing the supply of school seats (and possibly, jobs too). And to address the deep existential worries that have brought hundreds of thousands of students and professionals to the streets, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the man who lends his sincerity, integrity and credentials of reform-mindedness to an otherwise depraved government has asked the agitating students to believe the sincerity of his intentions to set things right for they come from a man of his integrity. There’s a term for all this. It’s called cheap talk.

All the talk about making reservations irrelevant’ (a turn of phrase with an unfortunate history of being used as a sop to Pakistan, where it was borders that were to be made irrelevant) would have been meaningful if the UPA government had first outlined policies on how this will actually be achieved. Considering that nothing short of a dramatic liberalisation of the education sector — on the lines of the 1990s dismantling of the licence-permit raj — is necessary to make it a reality, even weeks after the current controversy broke out, all the UPA government has done so far is to insinuate that existing schools will take in more students.

Rolling back those reservations is the best course of action — for knowledge economy or not, entitlements are no way for a free India to organise its society around. That’s an argument of principle. There is also a practical side to this — the countries that India is competing against for jobs, investment and markets — won’t handicap their teams in a similar way. But unless the nation goes into a massive convulsion, rolling back reservations is just about as likely as us accepting a lack of sincerity Manmohan Singh’s part.

Enter pragmatism — a convenient virtue for the middle class. This word gets thrown about when the people are tired of seeing the same headlines on television and the same protesters on the streets. It will not be surprising therefore, to see the reasonable, practical and the moderate among us to be smitten by Manmohan Singh’s sincerity and begin to accept that a grand compromise, after all, is inevitable. (For, isn’t it the way democracy works?). Didn’t we compromise on labour reforms by not having them. Didn’t we compromise with the Hurriyat by accepting perversions of our own constitution? Didn’t we compromise with Musharraf by forgetting that it is Pakistan that needed to win our confidence? Didn’t we compromise with the Taliban, the Iraqi insurgents, the Naxalites and the Nepalese Maoists by humbly accepting the terms they laid down to us? Didn’t we compromise with the Constitution and the Judiciary by continuing to keep convicted criminals in cabinet instead of in prison? Didn’t we, then? And during it all, didn’t we have man of sincerity and integrity at the helm?

It’s clear, to both him and the nation, that Dr Manmohan Singh can’t run a disciplined cabinet. Worse, he has allowed his sincerity and integrity to cover the cynical shenanigans of anachronistic Congress party politicians and their equally venal political allies. Perhaps the evil in their designs would have been seen much earlier, and combated with greater vigour if not for his benign facade. That’s got to be greatest confidence act in town.

Related Links: Atanu Dey’s series of posts on reservations.

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