Sunday, April 19, 2015

Are you a meritocrat?

Before you can answer the question, I must define what I mean by “meritocrat”. To me, the word means that one swears by meritocracy. What type of meritocracy? In general discussions meritocracy is defined by scoring high marks in exams (isn’t this how one gets into IITs, IIMs etc.?)
My familiarity with Mahabharatam extends not far beyond what I heard from my grandmother and my mother’s widowed elder sister. Of course, I was recently schooled in the epic through Star TV’s serial of the same title (courtesy, Star Vijay channel, in Tamil). Why bring in the epic on a discussion on meritocracy? I have my reasons and please indulge me.
I take you back to the part where Karnan is not allowed to challenge Arjunan in a contest. The reason adduced? The contest was for the warrior class and Karnan, as he could not say who his parents are, is deemed not of that class. This is when Duryodanan enters the picture. He anoints Karnan as the king of a vassal state, and thus the latter gains the warrior class status.
Somehow I saw in this a parallel with dilution of the minimum marks required for qualifying for  SCs and STs in competitive examinations. So, Duryodanan may have been the first anti-meritocrat! He opened the backdoor for Karnan!
Later on, Karnan was cursed by a sage that his skills will become useless at a crucial time as he had posed as a Brahmin (in a trice Karnan’s status changes three times!). So, in a sense what Duryodanan gave Karnan, the sage took away. The story meanders this way and that way but the original foot-in-the-back door, opened so generously by Duryodanan stands Karnan in good stead - gets him the position of the General of the Army.
Of course, later it turns out that Karnan was indeed of a legitimate warrior class, being the first born of Kunti. But, the original anti-meritocrat had taken his revenge against meritocracy as defined by the vested interests of a class.
So, before you answer the question in the title, please make up your mind whether you are with Duryodanan or not, in this matter. Would you like Mahabharatam changed, and let Arjunan go pretty much unchallenged in the field?
Raghuram Ekambaram

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