Why there are so few senior Dalit bureaucrats
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Is this fair? Of course not. But the real tragedy is not why there are so few Dalits and tribals in senior government posts. It is why, 60 years after Independence, so few of them make it to the top of the general list. The answer is blindingly clear. So little government money (and frankly, the energy of social justice advocates) is spent on improving public schools, colleges and scholarships — the surest way for historically marginalised groups to overcome the lack of social capital back home.
This is only a hypothesis. But it offers a compelling counter to the claim, made without any systematic evidence, that the seeming absence of Dalits in top bureaucratic posts is, of itself, evidence of discrimination.
The bill does more than divert attention from social justice. It hurts the only force (apart from the market) with the ability to improve the condition of Dalits and tribals: the state. Bureaucracy 101, since first written by Max Weber, dictates that efficient organisations have to be hierarchical and internally meritocratic. This is intuitive: if your junior or peer becomes your boss solely on the basis of identity, how likely are you to perform? By making the state the site of social justice, instead of the vehicle for social justice, the interests of the marginalised are harmed most.
Are those few politicians opposing the bill mouthing these liberal and socially just arguments? Well, Exhibit A is the Shiv Sena, about the most illiberal party in Indian history. Exhibit B is the Samajwadi Party, whose member tore a copy of the bill in Parliament. Mulayam Singh Yadav, more than any other, grasps the bill's cynical aim. The current amendment is in response to a court judgment invalidating a law passed by Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Her BSP owes its origins to Dalit government officers such as Kanshi Ram, who first organised within the bureaucracy, then floated a political party outside. Dalit bureaucrats are the feeder service into Dalit politics. For Mulayam, this Bill will empower his opponent in his home state — and for that reason alone, his Lohiaite backward caste party will tear a pro-reservation bill. When illiberal and cynical laws are opposed by illiberal and cynical people, democracy's doom is not far.
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