It's raining sops

election season

Come elections and one sees political parties announcing their intention to give more and more direct benefits to the people in the hope of garnering votes. The ruling party has the added advantage as they can introduce schemes and policies which are targeted at certain specific sections of society, purely for electoral advantage. This is precisely what Karnataka did recently.

The 2017-18 state budget proposed a slew of populist measures directed at the ruling party’s vote base — backward castes, Dalits and minorities. The second important announcement came in the form of draft amendments to the Karnataka Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Rules of 1961, which envisages 100% reservation for Kannadigas for blue-collar jobs in the private sector — except in IT and BT industries — which secure concessions under the state industrial policy. If industries do not follow these guidelines, the government will cancel all concessions.

Political parties don’t seem to learn from the recent trends in state elections. Today’s electorate is well aware of its interests as well as the government’s performance. They are more concerned about their livelihood, healthcare and education and they take independent decisions while casting their vote. They want a government, which they think, can deliver rather than the pre-election promises the parties make.

In this regard, I am happy to see that we are becoming a mature democracy. I would like to address two issues relating to the recent announcements of Karnataka government as mentioned earlier. First, the new populist schemes proposed in the budget are actually bribes that the ruling party will be giving to the voters in the hope of getting votes next year. And who will be footing the bill for this? It will be the taxpayers.

I think that every right thinking person should object to such populist schemes. The Election Commission (EC) should also consider banning such schemes, which are introduced just before the elections as they clearly amount to corrupt practices.

However, if some schemes are still required to mitigate distress in certain areas, then the same could be introduced with the prior approval of the EC. I hope the EC will take suo motu action in this regard.
Second is the issue relating to 100% reservation for Kannadigas. I can only say that this has also been announced with the same objective of garnering votes. The ruling party seems to be desperate. It should go to the people and seek votes on the basis of its performance rather than introducing such a policy during the last year of its tenure. It is unfortunate that the government does not seem to have examined the legal, administrative and other implications of such a policy.

Successive governments have gone around the globe inviting entrepreneurs to come to Karnataka to set up industries. A number of incentives have been given, too. But until now no government has ever ventured to allot land and provide other incentives with any conditions about reservations for any particular class of people. People have set up industries on the basis of the pronounced industrial policy of the state from time to time.

Asking them now to have 100% reservation will neither be morally right nor will it stand the test of judicial scrutiny. If at all the state government wants to introduce such a policy then let it be done prospectively and see how many people would like to come to Karnataka and invest.

The industry has already reacted adversely on the issue. In a free market economy, no one likes restrictive policies as the entire success lies on efficiency and competitiveness of the workers. Besides, the state should also consider the likely reaction of other states where Kannadigas are working and who may get adversely affected.

Removing barriers  

It is ironical that when India is about to introduce GST and remove inter-state barriers in the movements of goods and services, Karnataka is thinking of barring outsiders from seeking blue-collar jobs in the state.

While every state government would like to safeguard the interests of its people, including providing jobs for them, it should be ensured that while doing so it does not encourage inefficiency in the industry. I am sure the private sector will have second thoughts on investing under these conditions.
Reservation policy is a Pandora’s box. Once, we had reservations only for a limited period for SCs and STs. We then brought in reservation for OBCs. It is now a never-ending demand for many more communities to be covered under the OBC quota.

It is strange that we have a competition in calling ourselves backward rather than being called developed communities. And policies of the state to provide more and more subsidised items will make our people less competitive and lazier. Under such an environment, how can India become a developed nation much less a globally competitive economy?

The government needs to invest more and more in affirmative action to enable the poor to become competitive in the job market. Give them subsidised education, provide them with the good healthcare system and even scholarships for education.

If reservation in jobs is still required then provide reservation purely on the basis of financial status and not on the basis of caste, community or religion. That will also help in reforming the electoral system, because then vote bank politics will no longer matter.

I wish our people will see merit in such a policy and force the political parties to adopt it. I also concede that it will take a considerably long time for such a policy to be adopted. I would, however, like this issue to become a matter of national debate. I am sure it will finally be accepted one day.

(The writer is former additional chief secretary, Government of Karnataka)

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