Forever third world. Looming threats to free agent hood
We don’t make any bones about the basic nature of Indian democracy. Elections are nothing but another chance to say ‘hurrah’ for your closest benefit protector. This is what keeps all issues like sewage on the roads or inflation off the voters minds.
If you have been reading this blog you already know my theory about the ‘Free Agent Voter‘. The Congress party is about to embark on two major initiatives to compact the population of free agents even further.
- The Right to Education Act : How on earth can you oppose something as noble as the right to education, you are sure to ask ?
- The inclusion of religious quota and the inclusion of Christians and Muslims in the SC list.
Lets look at the Right to Education Act in this post.
First of all, opposing the Right to Education Act does not mean opposing the Right to Education. The real problem with the RTE is that it will compact the free agents to insignificance while thrusting an extremely suboptimal education policy down the nations taxpayers throats. It will also consolidate existing locked in groups using the adhesive of communal suspicion. Let me elaborate.
The most insidious aspect of the bill is the 25% quota system. Actually, not just that, but that the government gets to select who benefits from this 25% quota. Actually, not just that, but that the government gets to select who benefits without any burden of data.
Sounds familiar ? Yes, this is nothing but the quota system in disguise. This time it is for non minority schools, may include economic and disabled sub quota, and is pegged for the moment at 25%. None of this is of course cut in iron. Once the basic premise of 25% is accepted, there is very little ground to oppose hiking it to 26%, 30%, or even 50%. The reimbursement model is simply unworkable and at best will be a massive taxpayer burden with no accountability from either the government or school managements. It will lead to several moral hazards “Why should taxpayer X who sends his kids to a Rs 400/mo school subsidize select student Y to go to a Rs 2000/mo school ?”. How does a popular school select from a large pool of “voucher holders” ? An entrance exam ? Should the open category poor or OBC poor be selected against the economic sub quota ? The questions go on – and the final answer is of course, who ever has the recommendation letter from people powerful enough to influence the SMCs (School Management Committees) . This is always the equilibrium of arbitrary policy and the sweet spot of Indian politicians.
Wait, Isn’t this about poor students ?
Yeah at first it could be, but a soap bubble soon assumes a spherical shape even if it looks like a pear as it leaves the straw. The act includes several categories ranging from poor to handicapped to SC/ST/Socially Backward all lumped together in a completely ill thought out manner.
There can only be one ‘primary staging group’ for social justice. There can be other derived or sub groups, but never two primary groups. You cant have fluid identification (like economic status) and tribal identification (like caste/religioin) both as primary staging groups. Sooner or later it will degenerate into sub quotas very much like our higher education and public employment policy so that we have separate quotas for each group.
What about St Xaviers (or insert favourite school here) ?
Minority schools will be exempt from this program. At best it will just be a matter of showing that these schools have admitted poor students from their own community. See proposals here. It might even be a win-win for them because they can get government reimbursement for their not so popular school branches but retain control of the really good ones.
How does this impact free agent voter population ?
Very bad news here for India. Everyone knows arbitrary policy purely at the pleasure of individuals and life stories can easily cut the other way. Hence it is better to be on the safe side.
From the standpoint of minorities. The mere fact that their leaders have managed to keep the corrupt Indian state off their back will be a remarkable achievement. Their touchstone will be the plight of the other non-minority schools nearby now under a new permit raj of the so called school management committees (SMCs), which too will degenerate in due time into tribal representation. All this creates a grand incentive for the minorities to support the safest choice that protects this insulating layer.
From the standpoint of Hindus. This is where it gets interesting. Schools who enjoy a strong tribal political base (read run by politically strong castes) have little to fear from the status quo but much to fear from the destruction of it. Therefore, the natural reaction is to rally behind the electoral choice that best protects this status quo. This usually takes the form of a few caste leaders with connections who can secure a place at the resource allocation table. However, this is an uneasy calm because these leaders could develop vested interests themselves in short order.
Schools run by Hindu non linguistic politically weaker communities will serve as demonstration of what awaits the other locked-in groups if they attempt to defect. The management of these schools will have to keep their phone lines ready to humor the smallest politician or neighborhood big shot who will have their own favourite disadvantaged. The nimble ones may quickly offer seats to the kins of politicians and insulate themselves a bit, but even that will be short lived because the demands never stop.
So what are you saying, ditch this program ?
Ignore for a minute that it does not matter what I say. I fully support government involvement directly in education. In other words, cut this crap and just open new government schools like it is done everywhere else. Instead of educating 1 poor child in a Delhi Public School, educate 100 in a new government school. Go ahead, construct 8 story school blocks in urban areas.
You can then use the coercive powers of the state to attract the resources need to run these schools. This is the path a true socialist state would have taken. However, if you really want to pursue a voucher system, first put in place two things.
- Identification of beneficiaries must automatically come with the burden of data.
- The voucher must be valid at all schools. No exemptions based on tribal identity.
It wont happen. This strikes at the very root of our contemporary political setup. Instead, our netas will use this to peddle yet another round of divide and rule in disguise. Our media will distract the issue by putting on air hysterical supporters of merit and letting them make a fool of themselves. Mission accomplished.
Bonus links :
Picture of victims of data less social justice used to promote a completely unrelated policy, that of a disabled sub-quota. This one is a classic.
Headline finesse “Migrant kids to have better access to education“. Actually migrant kids are no better off, they have to fight with stationary kids based on how their tribal identity is currently classified.
Another template article on substantive equality written without Microsoft Excel running on any computer in a 5 km radius.