When the National Knowledge Commission, NKC, took (or, was forced by Pratap Bhanu Mehta to take) a stand on the reservation issue, I felt that it was undermining its credibility by wading unnecessarily into questions whose answers lie in politics: integration of lower castes into the mainstream through preferential treatment in education and employment. Ideally, NKC should have concerned itself with questions about the institutions that are necessary to transform our nation into a Knowledge Society -- whatever that means ;-). It simply should have avoided (at least for the moment) questions about who gets to participate in these institutions.
Since it took it upon itself to plough this murky territory it is reaping the results it richly deserves: a public spat that eventually led to the resignations of Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre Beteille. Now, we have one more data point in this sordid saga. Another Commissioner, P.M. Bhargava, goes public with his views in a long essay in Outlook. Here's an extract in which he chides NKC:
In view of the relatively little progress towards meeting its mandate and the lack of an agreed procedure for arriving at its destination, the NKC needed to be circumspect about going to the press on any issue not discussed adequately within, as was the case with the proposed reservations for the OBCs. The reservation issue is a part of the larger problem of access to education to all sections of society and at all levels of education, and it would be outside the intellectual mandate of the NKC to comment on it publicly on a stand-alone basis.
Bhargava's essay is of variable quality; while he makes some telling points, it's difficult to endorse his essay when one finds this gem in his discussion of what NKC should be doing in various areas. Look at what he says in the area of civil society:
Civil Society: We have an abundance of never-ending soaps on television that revolve around the question, who is who's child, an issue which could be settled in one episode by DNA fingerprinting. How do we give housewives better options so that they may spend their afternoons fruitfully?
Now, is this the most pressing problem facing the Civil Society that's waiting to be transported to the Knowledge Era?
Retrieving its credibility should be the first priority of NKC ...
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Thanks to Abhinav for the e-mail pointer to Bhargava's essay.