6th Pay Commission: PM Wants civil, defence services rewarded!

Maintaining that he wanted the civil and defence services to be “properly rewarded”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said his government was committed to redressing grievances and concerns expressed over some parts of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.“I would like our civil and defence services to be properly rewarded. I also believe that the tax payers will not grudge anyone of us better remuneration as long as we are serving the best interests of our people, our country most efficiently,” Singh said while addressing senior officers on Civil Services Day here today.

The pay panel’s recommendations have invited criticism from defence officers and members of the Indian Police Service (IPS). While defence officers had approached Defence Minister A K Antony with their grievances and suggestions, IPS officers have been urging Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to have anomalies in the recommendations removed.

Pointing out that the Pay Commission was part of efforts to “redress systemic deficiencies”, the Prime Minister said that a mechanism had already been set in motion for hearing and redressing grievances. Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar is heading a high-level committee to look into the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission.

The Prime Minister, however, maintained that improved conditions of work “must go hand in hand with improvement in work on the ground”. He seemed to make an indirect reference to sections of officers going public with their disappointment with the pay commission report. While the government was committed to the welfare of the services, he also expected the “highest standards of discipline and decorum from our civil servants”.

He used the occasion to deliver a message to the bureaucracy — that the civil services had to be fair, honest and efficient so that public perception about the government could be changed. The poor and the under privileged complained that the government was biased against them; the business class complained that the government was “excessively intrusive and slow to act” while the middle class complained that it was “corrupt and unresponsive”, he said.

“We must introspect and recognise that there is a great deal of public dissatisfaction with the functioning of government, at all levels of government. This challenge the civil service must endeavour to address as a collective entity,” he said. He added that the government also needed to improve its “human face” as it moved away from running industries and controlling economic activity to managing public services delivery.

Calling for special attention must be paid to the needs of the poor, particularly the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities, women and children, the Prime Minister sought a “renewed commitment to placing oneself on the side of the disadvantaged in society.”

He sought the bureaucracy’s help to improve the performance of the government’s flagship programmes. The initial feedback on schemes like Bharat Nirman, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, National Rural Health Mission and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan were “generally positive though not uniform across states”, he pointed out.

There were areas like food distribution, nutrition and basic health services where a lot more needed to be done. “We have increased outlays, so the financial constraint has eased, but it is your managerial challenge to ensure that the outcomes are also now better than ever before,” he told the gathering.

Indian Express: Dated 22/04/08

Aaj Ka Arjun: Piggybacking the Indian Reservations

Arjun SinghEighteen years can be an eternity in politics: on September, 6, 1990, a stirring speech was made in parliament criticising the Mandal commission report.

“If you believe in a casteless society, every major step you take must be such that you move towards a casteless society. And you must avoid taking any steps which takes you to a caste-ridden society. Unfortunately, the step we are taking today in accepting the Mandal report, is a caste formula. While accepting this reality, we must dilute that formula and break it by adding something to it. Even at this late hour, there is time to pull the country back from caste division… ministers are provoking caste wars. Are we going back to the Round Table Conference for having separate electorates? That was designed to break our country. An issue like reservation cannot be treated in a piecemeal manner. We must look at the whole picture.”

The author of the speech? None other than the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Given Arjun Singh’s love for history and the Nehru-Gandhi family (every room in his house is dotted with portraits of the Congress’s first family), it is possible that he has read Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in parliament on the Mandal debate. Yet, as the scriptwriter for Mandal Part II, Singh may well be having a quiet chuckle as he describes the Supreme Court order upholding 27 per cent quotas for Other Backward Classes (OBC) as ‘historic’ and a ‘vindication’ of the stand he has taken. After all, in a rare display of unanimity, not a single politician worth his vote has chosen to voice even the slightest disagreement with Singh’s formula. The ghost of the Congress’s posterboy PM seems to have been well and truly buried.

What explains this tectonic shift? The answer must be found in the rise of competitive politics in the last two decades and the end of the era of Congress dominance. So long as the Congress enjoyed a monopolistic position in Indian politics, it could afford to ignore the yearnings for greater empowerment at the bottom and middle of the caste pyramid. The backward castes in south of the Vindhyas had already been accommodated within the ruling arrangement through a pre-independence social revolution. It was only when the winds of political change began to sweep across north India that the real transformation occurred. Once the Mulayams and the Lalus shook the foundation of the Congress in the 1990s and captured power across the Hindi heartland, the party had little choice but to fall in line with the new order.

Nehru, especially, was contemptuous of caste. In a circular sent to the presidents of all the Pradesh Congress committees in 1954, Nehru said:

“In particular, we must fight whole-heartedly against those narrow divisions which have grown up in our country in the name of caste, which weaken the unity, solidarity and progress of the country”.

Indira Gandhi, although much less ideologically inclined, was also discomfited by caste assertion, choosing to combat the rising power of the OBCs in the 1967 elections with her universal ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. Rajiv Gandhi reflected an English-speaking public school educated mindset in dealing with caste politics: the speech in parliament in 1990 was only one example of his singular distaste for grappling with the complexity of caste equations.

When Gujarat chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s politically successful experiment in the mid-1980s with backward-caste alliances led to an upper-caste backlash, Rajiv was quick to dismiss him, an error of judgment for which the Congress is still paying a price in the state. Right through the Rajiv-Indira years, no attempt was made to push forward with the Mandal report commissioned by Morarji Desai’s government in 1977.

Why VP Singh resurrected the Mandal genie in the 1990 remains the subject of much debate: his supporters have suggested that the Raja of Manda was a genuine  revolutionary, committed to notions of social justice, and someone with the foresight to recognise the changing political landscape in the country. It is more likely that the Janata Dal PM saw the implementation of the report as a weapon to silence his critics within and outside his rickety coalition. VP’s Mandal operation was done by stealth, not conviction, designed to safeguard his own precarious position in the government.

Ironically, 18 years later, another upper-caste Thakur from north India, has chosen to make caste-based reservations his calling card. If VP Singh used the Mandal report to consolidate himself politically, Arjun Singh too has bolstered his stature by pushing ahead with OBC reservations. Both VP and Arjun cut their teeth in the Indira Gandhi school of politics: a politics of convenience, not always of conviction.

Both became CMs in the latter period  of the Indira era, neither showing any inclination in their home states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to engage in radical social engineering. Both were faced with shrinking political bases, Arjun Singh even facing the humiliation of coming third to the BSP in his pocket borough of Satna in 1996. In fact, both were recognised as good administrators rather than charismatic vote-gatherers or harbingers of a new political order. Both have masked their vaulting ambition under the guise of morality: if VP was the crusader against corruption, Arjun Singh has projected himself as the protector of Nehruvian secularism.

VP Singh at least managed to attain the ultimate prize. Arjun Singh, by contrast, has always been the also-ran, never the bridegroom. In 1991, he was a front-runner for the prime ministership, only to find himself being edged out by Narasimha Rao. As HRD minister in the Rao government, Singh showed no desire to push for reservations.

It was left to then social welfare minister, Sitaram Kesri, whose memory has now been virtually deleted from the Congress archives, to champion the Mandal report. Singh, by contrast, was identified  as the saviour of the minorities: demanding white papers on the Babri Masjid demolition, giving grants to minority institutes and organising seminars on secularism. With his nemesis Rao being seen as soft on Hindu communalism, it suited Arjun Singh’s political ambitions to emerge as a defender of minority interests.

Now, in his second coming as HRD minister, Singh has offered another alternative: If Manmohan Singh’s core constituency is the urban middle-class, Singh has appealed to the disadvantaged groups. If the PM is the symbol of the new economy based on merit and efficiency, Singh represents the older order based on handouts and patronage. If the PM wants to encourage private enterprise, Singh would prefer to strengthen the role of government through sops and entitlements.

If the left attacks the PM for elitism, Singh is embraced for chanting the mantra of equity. Reservations, be it for minorities or backwards, have been the Madhya Pradesh leader’s ultimate political weapon in his battle to retain relevance: having already worn the hat of secularism and socialism, he has now added the cap of social justice. It’s a triple whammy, the kind which should make it impossible to ignore or isolate him.

With such high political stakes, who then cares if the government’s flagship primary education schemes are in a mess? Who cares if the drop-out rate among Dalits, Muslims and backward caste students remains unconscionably high? Who bothers if the infrastructure is not in place to manage the reservation fallout in IITs and IIMs? Who worries if quality education continues to suffer?

Unfortunately, for Mr Singh, it may be too late now to achieve his ambitions: he is unlikely to be seen as a future prime ministerial candidate in a party waiting to see the emergence of a Rahul Raj. But there is compensation: Arjun Singh is the only member of the cabinet to have a road named after him. What Jamia Millia Islamia University has done today, pro-reservationists may wish to do tomorrow.

By Rajdeep Sardesai
From Hindustan Times dated 18/04/08

A Landmark Judgement Indeed

This is the post that appeared in Indian Express today. It is written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
It’s a landmark

Landmark judgments can have one of two features. They can strike an uneasy balance between competing considerations, in a sort of compromise that keeps the peace. Or they can mark out a radically new course of action. Ashok Thakur is an oddity in that, amidst all the complications of four different judgments, it manages to do both. The core orders of the Supreme Court strike a balance between two considerations. A society like India needs affirmative action. But the core question must have some rational justification: Who should be targeted, why should they be targeted and how should they be targeted? For all the brave face the government is putting up, its perfidy has been exposed. The issue was not whether affirmative action is permissible. What was grossly objectionable was that the government indiscriminately included groups that manifestly ought not to be beneficiaries. They had converted a social policy into a pure power play.

The court has, in deference to the legislature but in line with its own precedent, upheld reservations. It has upheld the constitutionality of the 93rd Amendment and 27 per cent quota for OBCs. But it is in modest ways forcing the government to rationalise the system in at least two ways: the exclusion of the creamy layer from the OBC quota and an injunction that the inclusion of specific groups be reviewed every five years. The rationalisation imposed is modest. Who falls under creamy layer exclusion is relatively clear in case of government employees. But the judges have left the determination of its precise boundaries an open question and potentially given the government a good deal of discretion. This will potentially be a great area of uncertainty in the future. But implicitly there is a reminder that caste is a reality in India but it is not the only reality.

The second area of uncertainty is whether private unaided institutions can come under the purview of reservations. The 93rd Amendment was occasioned by the issue of private institutions in the first place. But strangely, the court refused to pronounce on this constitutional issue on the grounds that no private party was impleaded in the matter. But this is precisely the issue that provoked Justice Bhandari’s dissent to one of the strongest defences of the rights of unaided institutions to date in Indian judicial history. The regulatory uncertainty on this issue is likely to continue for a long time, and may be an indication of how divisive this issue will yet be.

This issue is directly related to an issue that the court settles incidentally: whether minority institutions should be exempt from the purview of reservations. The court has upheld special status for minority institutions, but in doing so seems to have confused, as it has in the past, two different issues. The court has been rightly concerned in the past and has insisted that an institution should not lose its minority character merely because it receives state funding. But it does not follow from that fact that the Constitution requires that there be a distinction between minority and majority institutions if they do not receive any state funding. In other words, the court has lost an opportunity to detach freedom of association from being irrevocably imprisoned in the categories of minority and majority. But the fact that it could not come to a determination on unaided institutions has left the majority-minority distinction inscribed in areas where it is unnecessary.

For the most part, the court operates within the parameters of Indra Sawhney; the CJ’s moderately worded judgment does, contrary to the government’s stand, categorically insist that there is a qualitative distinction between SCs and OBCs, and the two deserve different treatment. This is the ground on which creamy layer is excluded for the one and not the other. But since it is operating within existing precedent, many of the anomalies over affirmative action are likely to persist. A curious sentence from the CJ’s judgment: “If any Constitutional Amendment is made which moderately abridges or alters the equality principle under Article 19(i)(g) it cannot be said that it violates the basic structure of Constitution.” Moderate abridgment may be a tacit concession to the fact that the current scheme of reservation remains at best very blunt in its targeting.

While the core orders can be construed as a holding pattern compromise, the large and contentious issues that divide Indian society are scarcely resolved. This division can be seen in the overall approach of the majority and Justice Bhandari’s extraordinarily pointed dissent. Both agree that Indian society is characterised by inequity. But one approach of addressing this inequity operates in the following paradigm. To overcome this inequity we must recognise the key axis of social divisions like caste. It then assumes that the very same categories that produced the social division in the first place should be used to address inequality. Another more radical approach worries that using the same categories is perpetuating those very distinctions that we seek to overcome. The way to overcome caste is to overcome it in public policy, but at the same time attend to the basic provisions that make for real social empowerment.

Which side you come out on is not a matter of pure legal judgment. It depends on your reading of Indian history. One side says: look at the reality of caste. Another side says: look at the ineffectiveness and arbitrariness of reservations, a policy that does not help the very groups it is designed to help. On the one side, which the majority represents, there is an unstated pessimism that is barely concealed — Indian society cannot be trusted to effectively do all the right things quickly enough: spread genuine quality education, create awareness about discrimination and aspire towards equality. So the present compromise is warranted. On the other side, reflected in the dissenting judgment, there is a real fear that this politics of pessimism plays straight into the hands of those who want to opportunistically exploit divisions, engage in power play and avoid doing the real thing.

It is time we really did say to ourselves: let us make quality education a basic right. Let us be clearer about the real sources of social disempowerment and address them. One is resigned to a society of necessary palliatives, the other dreams of an India beyond caste and the tyranny of state-sponsored compulsory identities. The majority judgment reflects the former; the dissenting judgment the latter. Who is on the side of the future will be decided, not by the courts, but by the kind of politics we now engage in.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research pratapbmehta@gmail.com