One of the most infuriating things in the arguments that use 'merit' as the centerpiece is that many of them assume or imply that people who get in through the reserved quota are all complete duds when compared to the luminously brilliant dudes and dudettes in the general category. For an example of this type of argument, see Jeet's comment on my earlier post.
Take the example of Tamil Nadu, where 69% reservation has been a fact of life for at least two full decades. For admission to top colleges, the cut-off marks (I am not talking about percentiles or ranks here; these are raw, unadjusted marks scored in exams of various kinds) for the general and reserved categories differ by just one or two percent [I am sure there is some online link out there that I could provide here, but I have not been able to get one. Could someone please help?]. If, for example, the last student to be selected in the general category (let's call him/her Person A) had 98 percent, the last student in the reserved category (Person B) probably had 96 percent.
There are at least two ways to look at this difference. The first -- and this is the Britannica way -- is to say that Person B lost twice as many marks as Person A did. The other -- the Nature way -- is to say Person B's score is just two percent below that of Person A.
Well, which one would you use in arguments involving 'merit'?
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A second argument that's trotted out is that this current proposal to extend reservation to IITs, IIMs and other central universities is a ploy by Mr. Arjun Singh (Chief Political Officer at the Ministry of HRD) to gain some political mileage for his party. I may even concede this point. However, by crying "POLITICS", these critics seem to imply that there is something inherently malafide about the proposal.
In contentious issues such as reservation (or, tax rates), any choice made by the government is a political one. When I say 'any choice', I am including the choice to 'not do anything at all'. In fact, it's precisely this political choice that was made by all the governments since Narasimha Rao's.
Further, it's instructive to examine how 'political' this choice was. So, let's roll the tape back to the days when the 104th Amendment Bill (the one that enabled the current proposal by Mr. Arjun Singh) was debated and voted on. This is what Satya says in his post:
[The] 104th Constitution Amendment Bill ... was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 21st with 379 votes in favour and one vote against and one abstaining. The Rajya Sabha also passed it on December 22nd with 172 votes in favour and only two against.
Will of the people, anyone?