A crisis of selection
The eleven who make it to the Indian cricket team are not eleven of India’s best cricketers. India’s top civil servants are not its best civil servants. Actors, models and singers did not get there simply because they had the talent. It is no surprise that India looks miserable every four years, at the Olympics, because those sportsmen and women who did make it to the squad are not quite the best. The one place that should value real talent, the private sector, suffers from scionitis at the top and is threatened by state-enforced affirmative action everywhere else.
The social and political fabric of India does not value talent — instead, it prefers a system of entitlements and preferences. The debate is no longer about the desirability of entitlements, but their applicability. And with the Indian government’s recent decision to allocate places to Pakistani students in India’s elite engineering schools, the government outdid itself. Given India’s acceptance of a culture of entitlements, there was hardly any protest when it appeared that a new ‘quota’ — for Pakistani students — is on the verge of being created. Never mind the fact that every year hundreds of thousands of bright Indian teenagers literally kill themselves to get into the IITs and IIMs, and this education is highly subsidised by the Indian taxpayer.
The decision to allow Pakistani students to study in India and experience Indian society first hand is unquestionably sound. But why start with the IITs? And why resort to quotas? There are plenty of good universities all over the country — why not help raise the standards of India’s own universities by getting good Pakistani students to provide competition? And if the IITs have to be thrown open to Pakistani students, they must qualify under the same system as everyone else. But it will be hard to resist the calls of political correctness and soon enough, the entitlement culture will cause a ‘quota’ of sorts to come into place. Has the government thought this through?
These questions would have been meaningful if Indian society valued merit as a basis of selection. But in India’s prevailing culture of entitlement, they find very little traction.
But what is most wonderful is that year after year, faced with shameful results in international contests of talent (like sports), Indians ask why a country of over a billion people cannot produce enough winners. Equipment, funding and career-perceptions matter — but what brings the house down is India’s overwhelming, universal crisis of selection. Without a meritocratic system, India cannot fully realise the productive capacity of its citizens in any sphere of life.
Update: Quo vadis?
The Beijing Olympic Games may be three years away, but (Uttar Pradesh state) Sports Minister R K Chowdharyâ€™s gameplan is ready: make Indian sports caste and community-based and set up caste hostels to nurture this talent.
The need of the hour, he says, is not building stadia in rural areas but providing â€˜â€˜special opportunities to children based on their caste” [IE]