The curious case of reinforcing caste, to destroy caste?

Today, it appears that another nail has been hammered into the coffin of Indian bureaucracy. The Rajya Sabha has just passed a bill to specify that not only will recruitment to key government jobs be done on the basis of caste, but promotions will also be governed by caste, rather than the universally accepted yardsticks of pure performance or merit!

As I read this news, I cant help but think of some of the few good officers left in the bureaucracy. It already takes a monumental effort to try and retain your sanity and do some good work, in the atmosphere of nepotism and corruption that pervades our system. And now these unlucky individuals have to contend with the fact that their good work may not matter anyway, when it comes to recognition and growth! How does one expect any human being to remain committed and motivated in such a scenario? Clearly the expectation from the government is that they wont, and they just don’t care. This appears to be petty, partisan politics at its worst.

Today that the nation needs strong institutions and a robust bureaucracy, more than ever! But if I put myself in the shoes of an IAS officer and wonder how I would greet this news, I am left with an eerie conclusion. We appear to be setting off the domino effect of two strong negative trends here.

1. Good people at mid levels in the bureaucracy will probably seek to start leaving and join international institutions and the private sector, if they can. No high quality individual wants to remain in an atmosphere where an accident of birth will determine the trajectory of his or her future.

2. In an environment where many new avenues are available to the youth of today, this is likely to accelerate a decline in high quality applications to the civil services. More and more eligible youngsters will choose to work in merit based systems, where they can prove, and be recognized for their mettle.

The unfortunate part of such politics is that no one acknowledges the disservice this ends up doing to bright people from the quota benefiting castes as well. It’s simple. How would like to be a strong performer, who is capable of earning rewards through sheer results, and yet be always looked down upon as a “quota promotee”? I would suspect that a great number of right thinking officers would eschew this so called “benefit” without the slightest hesitation, in return for the respect their genuine performance would earn them.

I remember a friend, who is a highly regarded officer in the IAS, quizzing me in all seriousness one evening, as to why people like me from the private sector, did not consider the IAS as a career option. I then struggled to answer the question with all the usual cliche’s. But today perhaps that question stands answered in a very lucid manner. I want to be in charge of my future and my destiny to the extent that I can. Not dependent on a government that is willing to sacrifice me on the altar of politics, at the drop of a hat!

One can just hope that the last resort of all Indians, the Supreme Court, will step in to point out the fact that this move violates article 14 of our constitution, that no individual may be discriminated against, on the basis of his or her identity. Ironically, the very issue that we are apparently trying to fix in the first place!


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