Thursday, February 25, 2016

Longevity issues – quotas/reservations, economic/financial/tax reforms

One of the arguments, indeed from my perspective the strongest, against reservations for the disadvantaged sections of society is that the supposedly curative mechanism appears to be self-perpetuating. I am not bringing this up in the context of the current imbroglio over the demand for reservations for Jats by downgrading their official caste/group status. Earlier, a couple of years ago I believe, it was Gujjars and then came Patels. Who next? We don’t know.
The argument against such reservations goes in the form of 60+ years of reservations and no gains on the ground. As a wise man said it is foolish to keep repeating something and expecting different outcomes. He must have been a scientist; and Amen to that.
Switch to another issue on which I can discern a similar self-perpetuation. This is on the economic front. Just as we have Gujjars, Patels, Jats and others, we have self-styled professional economists, academicians, lobby groups, industry associations that, come every February, get into a tizzy and demand reforms, like economic, financial, tax etc. The parallels are striking. Even taking 1991 as the year of the dawn of the so-called liberalization era in India, it is now 25 years old. Check that. It is 25 years young. Old is when you know your days are numbered. Reforms are immune to that process.
While giving due credit to Manmohan Singh for the initial spurt, he is blamed for the subsequent stasis. Come budget time, everyone and his cousin from the side of money calls for further reforms. The recent entrants in the slogan shouting crowd (in 5 star hotel conference rooms and not in front of Jantar Mantar in Delhi) are the NRIs. If it is not banking reform, it is coal industry reform or demand for sops for the aluminium industry, or tax rationalization. Just as an aside, it appears that there are as many industries, sectors etc. as there are castes in India!
 Earlier, in 1991, it was first generation reforms. Then came the second generation. Now it is, oh, I don’t know how manyeth generation! Does anybody remember Windows 5.0! I suspect not. These issues generally skip generations!
Even as we lose count of the generations, generations per se never die out. Species go extinct but reform-generations just reproduce themselves, like rabbits.
Here comes the unparallel between the arguments against reservations and the arguments for reforms. Both are self-sustaining but while one is castigated, the other is celebrated.
What gives? The fact that the end point if not defined, in either case.
Raghuram Ekambaram

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