by R. Ravi Kumar
The debate on merit has once again come to the forefront with the movie 'Aarakshan'. From various press clippings and debates on the movie one can come to the conclusion that the 'Aarakshan' team is much worried about the victimization of merit due to reservations for the disadvantaged groups. Though there was no scene in the movie derogating the rule of reservations, in summary the movie explicitly conveys the message that whatever may be the historic and social reasons to defend the rule of reservations, all that is null and void as the positioning of the candidates from the stream of reservations is fragile and hence questionable. That this is the stance of the Aarakshan team was clear from their arguments in various debates on TV. In one such debate that featured Shri Punia, the Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, telecast live on 11th Aug, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Mr. Prakash Jha had defended their movie by saying that, let's provide equal opportunities to every one and then judge them on merit considering various implementation flaws in reservations. Before judging the 'Aarakshan' team's wisdom on their choice of story line, I would like to depict some live examples which have sabotaged the merit among socially comparable groups in India. Also how individual merit becomes insignificant practically in a competition.
What's the proven merit of Mr. Rahul Gandhi that made him the Lok Sabha M.P., from Amethi? What's the proven merit of Mr. Sachin Pilot that has made him the member of the decision making coterie of Rahul Gandhi or 'High Command' of the Congress Party? And what's the proven merit of Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia, Madhavrao Scindia's son?
Are there no meritorious candidates than this trio within their constituencies? Have the late fathers of these three heroes left no second line leadership and made way only for their children to reach their present positions? One can raise several similar questions about their own success. However the answer is very simple: the Accrued Social Capital of their fathers have made them big, rather biggest in their constituencies.
This scenario is not only limited to politics, it can be seen even in academics, for example, four sons of two well-known professors (I don't want to name them) belonging to Hyderabad could become faculty members by demonstrating their Accrued Social Capital by over-riding the individual merit of all other competitors. Two sons of one of these professors are in the same university, with one son in the same discipline as the father, and both of them are in the same school. In the second case (he is more popular as a human rights activist than an expert in his own discipline), here again, one of the two sons got in to the same school in the same university, and the second one has secured a position in a much more reputed university in Delhi. Summing up, in all these cases one son of each of these Professors is in the same discipline as their fathers, and the second one is in the same school. Every other competitor vying for any of those four positions has to remain satisfied with, or rather accept the accrued social capital of these young academicians and keep silent. If anybody talks about it in public they may never be able to get in to academics in the country, which is yet another example of the strength of Accrued Social Capital over individual merit.
In the same way, what's the proven merit of the two sons of Dhirubhai Ambani, one of whom was made one of the highest paid executives in the world? By virtue of the law of inheritance of property they have the right to become the owners of the wealth of their father, but how could one of them become one among the highest paid executives? What about their individual proven merit? In this case, it is not only Accrued Social Capital of their family but also financial capital which made them the most meritorious!
One can go on illustrating such cases. This is a common phenomenon whenever two persons compete in the country where merit matters and what ever may be the social group they belong to.
If this is the fate of merit among equals what will happen to the individual merit of millions of disadvantaged groups who could not accrue any social capital? What ever little social capital is accrued by disadvantaged groups in the past sixty years due to reservations has gained more negative value rather than helping them in demonstrating their merit.
Hence I feel that the film maker of Aarakshan and the team has projected (again in the backdrop of enormous Accrued Social Capital of Big 'B' in one generation in the film industry) the most insignificant aspect of the merit debate rather then dealing with the gigantic and more powerful Accrued Social Capital.
Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, being a former parliamentarian and a highly respected film actor, should reflect on how and why film makers are investing big amounts in movies acted by his son, who has only recently entered the industry. Has his son ever faced the need to prove himself as an actor to establish himself? He should recollect how much he himself had to struggle to become such a Big B in the industry though his father is a well known writer.
One may dismiss the argument of Accrued Social Capital with nepotism. If one does it, he/she will fail to understand the dynamics of the Accrued Social Capital. It is very dynamic, several things have to fall in place for it to be successful. It is also influenced by time and space. Also the person should have some entry in to the field to make better use of the Accrued Social Capital of the family. Hence Accrued Social Capital may also be considered as the merit of meritorious. So dear Mr. Prakash Jha and Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, given your Accrued Social Capital, it will be heroic if you can make a movie which depicts this merit of the meritorious. It is a shame to your heroism if you also choose to victimize the victimized.
Let's examine merit from a practical point of view. In principle, merit is nothing but a demonstrated ability of a person in a competition. Rather a process and means to eliminate undesired persons from a competition to retain the desired. A competition is nothing but an event organized by a group of individuals representing an institution or an agency. It is a specific time bound event. The organizers of the event have got the opportunity to define the desirability and have the power to manipulate what they want to be the output of the competition. If merit is the demonstrated ability of an individual in a competition which has so many limitations and conditions, how will the product of it, merit, have any objectivity? Merit becomes notional if we compare performance. For eg., if we compare the performance of the toppers of UPSC with their fellow batch mates, it gets further nullified, there is no correlation between the performance of the toppers and the rest of the same batch.
Hence the debate on merit and calling someone as meritorious doesn't mean anything, especially in a society where Accrued Social Capital supersedes the individual's abilities totally.
R.Ravi Kumar is Secretary of the National Dalit Forum.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.