My op-ed in Mint : Entitlement, Intolerance & Violence

Three beasts that the political class rides—and would do well to get off

My op-ed in Mint today points out the damage that the entitlement economy, competitive intolerance and returns to violence are causing. It draws on some of the earlier posts on this blog on the subject. Excerpts:

The political exploitation of ethnic, caste and religious identities would have been bad enough without the third trend—that of rewarding political violence. It’s a matter of deep irony and deeper shame that a nation born out of non-violent struggle should consider it somehow acceptable for rebels, discontents and separatists of various kinds to use violence as a tool to press their demands. Under UPA government, not only has the home ministry demonstrated monumental incompetence in apprehending and punishing perpetrators of political violence, its cheerleaders have explained away criminal behaviour as a legitimate expression of socio-economic deprivation.

The entitlement economy is causing a crisis of selection—it is impossible for India to be competitive globally unless it can put together its best team, regardless of groups the players belong to. Competitive intolerance is beginning to hollow out intellectual and cultural life. And leaving political violence unpunished is not only wrong in principle, but extremely dangerous in practice—not least in the context of caste/community-based entitlements.

It must rank as a supreme example of groupthink among the political class that not a single party or politician of note has summoned up the courage to offer an alternative narrative. In that unfortunate fact lies the political opportunity of the decade. [Mint]

Update: Harsh Sethi refers to this op-ed in the July 2007 issue of Seminar magazine

9 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mint : Entitlement, Intolerance & Violence”

  1. Great op-ed Nitin. It is after all the expected fall out of OBC Quota Stunt by Shri Arjun Singh. India is worse off today than when the Congress took over, as if they had a mandate to ruin what was going right for the country. Maybe they did.

    – Sri


  2. Nitin,
    Read the whole thing at Mint. Great article. The title, “The great leap backward” said it all.

    UPA while trying to steal Mulayam’s and BJP’s OBC votebank has done great damage to our country’s economy and social fabric with its ‘vote stealing’ policies.

  3. Nitin,
    Wonderful OP-Ed ! I suppose our people will recogonize the destruction only in hindsight, just like quite a few people today recogonize the destruction caused by the license permit raj.

  4. Nitin, I agree with everything in your op-ed. Reservations, particularly since V. P. Singh accepted the Mandal recommendations have become exactly what you claim: entitlements doled out to communities by the government and if that wasn’t evident, the riots in Rajasthan should wake us up to that fact. But I think free-marketers like you need to go beyond mere criticism of the reservation policy; you need to offer an alternative policy, an alternative that needs to go beyond saying “the market will take care of it” or even “we should focus on primary education”. Perhaps you’ve done so in your blog-posts. I think one of the reasons why people who benefit from reservations are so suspicious of those like us, who oppose them (at least in their current form) is that our arguments never acknowledge the problem itself — the massive inequities created by the Indian caste system — and that we never propose an alternative. It’s completely fair to say that reservations hurt our competitiveness, encourage a particularly naked kind of identity politics and fail in their original goal of overcoming inequalities by generating resentment. Those are good reasons — but are they convincing enough for someone who has benefited from reservations and knows that he (or she) would not be in the position he is in now, if it were not for an affirmative action policy? I’m not sure they are — someone, who, because of discrimination, feels excluded as a citizen anyway, is hardly likely to be swayed by the argument that reservations hurt the country’s competitiveness. I think arguments against a reservation policy should be aimed at this person and not, as most articles against the reservation policy seem to be, at people like us: who already accept that the reservation policy has gone haywire. No?

  5. scritic,

    You’ve raised some very relevant issues. The op-ed is pointing out the trends; it does not aim to offer solutions. But you’ll find that there are approaches to alternative policies on this blog and on IEB. And no, they do not involve mere gratuitous invocation of markets. Do look at the Archives (under economy and public policy) if you are interested.

    You are right that many a time we are preaching to the choir. But I think it was Richard Dawkins who said that one should never underestimate the value of doing that—the Catholic Church has been doing it every Sunday for 2000 years! Given how deeply socialism is entrenched in the Indian psyche, any discourse over genuine centre-right politics has to start by building a base. Thus our humble attempts.

    I completely agree with you on your comment about the caste system. But given our historical experience, the modern Indian republic would do well to approach this with some humility, and those who’d like an end to the caste system manage their expectations. The list of people who have tried and failed to permanently kill caste include the Buddha, Guru Nanak, Emperor Akbar (perhaps), Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi, among others. Even Islam—a religion based on the equality of men—was transformed by India: we have upper and lower caste Muslims. Ditto Christianity. So that task is monumental. Yet the first step in the battle against it is to treat everyone as equal. And we are nowhere near taking the first step.

  6. I think that in the name of removing caste, we are perpetuating it. Studying in an upmarket convent school in Delhi, I had my first brush with caste when we filled up the CBSE 10th board exam forms. It had 3 check boxes, SC/ST/Other. I had no idea what it meant, so I asked my father and ticked on other.

    There is caste discrimination in many walks of life, but I am pretty sure that there is no justifiable reason for collecting caste info from school children. Why reinforce the differences that we are supposedly trying to remove ?

  7. I think when arranged marriage as an institution weakens and disappears from the Indian social scene, it’ll be the beginning of the end of the caste system. Are there any statistics out there on parent and self selection marriages? Does the Census of India collect such info? Just curious!

  8. Rational Fool,

    It’s a very compelling freakonomics-like hypothesis: something that has come up before in family discussions. I don’t think the census collects such data (nor does it collect caste data, which is both wonderful and awful at the same time. Awful because in the absence of accurate caste data, our politicians want to use 1931 figures).

    But could it be that the causation is the other way round. The conventional wisdom that caste compels arranged marriages; in which case getting rid of arranged marriages may not damage the caste system so much.

  9. >>> I don’t think the census collects such data

    jahan data collect karna chahiye wahan karte nahi hain.. and they ask for caste in 10th Std forms.. stupid jerks !!

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