An extreme position, Mr Shourie
I watched Arun Shouries interview with Karan Thapar on the program "Devils Advocate". This was telecast on CNN-IBN at 8:30 PM on Sunday 26, Jun 2006, retelecast the same day on CNBC-TV18 at 10:00 PM. The entire transcript is available here : http://www.ibnlive.com/news/poor-must-be-helped-but-quota-is-not-the-way/13851-4.html
Just to set the context: Mr Shourie has a new book in stores called "Falling Over Backwards" ( http://store.indiatimes.com/book/PlanetMBookDetails.jsp?audbookid=aub00016416 ). This book is about the current quota policy, its contradictions, how various judges have dealt with this issue, how the OBC quota is totally unmonitored, and how various states will not study this system. This book contains a wealth of information on this subject. I am half-way through reading this book and I can tell you it is worth it. I have my issues with Shouries extreme positions on various subjects and his method of putting his views forward, but that does not take anything away from this book. Good read.
Now, on to the interview:
Karan Thapar: Well, that’s what I want to put to you. The Scheduled Castes have been treated as untouchables for centuries. In fact, even their shadow was considered to be polluting. Their dignity has been trampled upon. Their individuality and humanity has been questioned. Why do you believe that reservation is not an appropriate way of giving them confidence and status?
Arun Shourie: Firstly, these are clichés without particular examination of historical records. Because a passage occurs in something called Manu’s doctrine or Manu’s compilation, I mean I have not met a person who realises or who acknowledges the fact that this compilation was done over 700 years.
Ignoring the quota issue for a moment, he seems to question the very concept that there were castes that were the targets of social repression. Whether or not the Manu's compilation had any relevance, it is commonly accepted that SCs were discriminated against in a large number of places in India. So, the interview starts off with Arun Shourie positioning himself on a plane that does not have many boarders. We know that there are the lowest of the low, the scavengers, the night soil cleaners, the hide removers (all scheduled castes).By adopting such an extreme position, Shourie prevents any discussion about his main arguments about OBC quotas and how they are implemented.
Even so , there were parts of the interview that Shourie made some important points. He also addressed one of the major problems with these debates.
People talk as if intent and implementation are the same thing. If one agrees on the intent, then any implementation should be automatically acceptable and you have no grounds for complaining. Yes, even if the implementation is hijacked by vested interests and now addresses an entirely different intent.
Consider this exchange.
Arun Shourie: And for 50 years you have not monitored them? Even the government.
Karan Thapar: But that’s not the failure of reservations? That is the failure of the administration.
Arun Shourie: No. No. You don’t understand. Reservations are going to be implemented by whom? By the Americans in India?
That was sarcastic, but illustrates the tone of the discussions today. =
This interview then degenerates into a milk-boils-to-form-cream discussion. Karan presents some totally irrelevant statistics about Dalit school enrollment for the past 50 years. It is amazing, how in the absence of statistical studies even the most knowledgable scholars are reduced to arguing like school children – clutching desparately at whatever can be considered to be data. Perhaps, the government wants to keep discussions at this level. It might have worked in the past, but in the age of information it is too jarring. How can we have the largest social justice program in human history and at the same time not allow its beneficiaries to be studied ?
Tips to deal with Karan Thapar
None of the points that Mr Shourie makes in his book got a chance. I think Arun is not very comfortable with Karans format. Maybe some helping points to anyone who wants to deal with an interviewer like Karan.
- You only have 20 seconds before Karan cuts you off. So use short sentences.
- Do not try to build your point from bottom up. If you start by laying down some historical context, then facts, then specific cases, then arguments, and then finally your position. Karan will probably stop you before you can say "110 million Chinese displaced by moderniz..". In the end you dont make your point.
- Just state your precise answer and give leads for Karan to follow up. You cannot lead Karan (because it is his show), so you let him lead you. It is not that difficult, just end your answers with a caveat.
- Dont get involved in a "you suck" -> "no ! you suck" -> "no you suck more" kind of banter with Karan. You cant win !
- No matter how hard you try, if your position is extreme you are doomed. It wont work with Karan. He will continue to dwell on your extreme position only and prevent you from moving to the centre of the argument.
Arun does make some interesting points about social reformers. I too think these people play a much larger role in transformation of a society at large. Even so, I support quotas for SC/STs *only* as mandated by the constitution. While SC/ST quotas are slightly better monitored than the OBC quota, it still needs major improvement. Perhaps the SC/ST quota system can be fine tuned to benefit all regions in a fair way. Even if a creamy layer does benefit from the SC/STs, it might give youngsters in those communities someone (or some families) to look up to. Remember, these groups have not had a history of control of their own destiny, they owned almost no land, they worked on rich landlords lands sometimes on a bonded basis, they were associated with unclean activities and were routinely humilated. The rationale for SC quotas are totally different, and therefore the metrics for measuring its effect must take these into account.
There is not much opposition to SC/ST quotas. There is also broad consensus that it is reasonably monitored (enumerated as late as the 2001 census). There are no landlord / mercantile / elite and wealthy communities in the SC/ST list. This list is carefully prepared.
OBCs are a whole different story altogether. I wished Arun Shourie could have given us his views on this issue (which is the burning issue in India today).