Date: 1/10/2006


Convert, perish, or migrate //// The 104th Constitution Amendment Bill is dangerous //// ///// Convert, perish or migrate//// Author: Swapan Dasgupta//// Publication: The Pioneer//// Date: December 25, 2005 ///// Last week, I heard a distinguished MP from the Opposition explaining the dynamics of India's development to an inquisitive foreigner. "We take two steps forward and then a step back", he said, taking his cue from Lenin. The net effect is a step forward. ///// Occasionally, however, we turn the logic of muddled advance on its head. We take a step forward and then, for the meanest of reasons, we proceed to take many steps backward. Indira Gandhi proceeded on such a course between the nationalisation of banks in 1969 and the declaration of Emergency in 1975. Overwhelmed by populist compulsions, she set India's economic development back by almost 15 years with a series of measures that also included the nationalisation of insurance, coal and the grain trade, and the imposition of punitive personal taxes. ///// It is a commentary on the state of public discourse in India that the 104th Constitution Amendment Bill was near-unanimously passed in Parliament without either assessing its full implications or taking into account the concerns of civil society. Indeed, the ramifications of this perverse legislation haven't yet sunk in. When it does, the consequences are certain to be devastating. //// Just when India seems poised to take-off and enter the big league, this legislation will take us back many years. There is even a legitimate fear that it could open the floodgates of an assault on the autonomy and competitiveness of the entire private sector. ///// Let us be quite clear about what the 104th Amendment does. First, the legislation is tantamount to the quasi-nationalisation of the entire private sector in education. It is one thing for any government to insist on pre-conditions for doling out assistance to private educational bodies. If a college or school takes government land at discounted rates, it is fair that the government demands a stake in its admissions policy in return. ///// Why should this principle be extended to institutions that neither ask nor expect government grants? By making it mandatory for "unaided" institutions-and these range from professional colleges to nursery schools-to keep aside 50 per cent of seats for people of certain castes and communities, the legislation is hitting at the very heart of both private initiative and voluntary association. ///// The 104th Amendment is an act of backdoor nationalisation. It assaults the autonomy of private education by putting it at the mercy of government inspectors and their political masters. The Government always had the right to shape the overall curriculum, especially if there was a public examination at stake. Now, the so-called "social control" will extend to both fees and admissions. No wonder some of the centres of excellence are thinking of closing shop in India and relocating to Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia. ///// Second, the 104th Amendment creates two classes of citizens-minorities and non-minorities, a euphemism for Hindus. The former enjoys all legitimate democratic rights of association and institution building, free from the inspector raj and political dadagiri. They can have their own schools and colleges, admit and reject whosoever they want and charge any fee they consider appropriate, without the constraints of "social control." The others, because of an accident of birth, or because they happen to be Hindus in India, are relegated to the category of second-class citizens on permanent parole. ///// I am glad that my old school in Kolkata and the college I attended in Delhi will be outside the purview of the new legislation. They can bask in the sunshine of autonomy because they are Christian-run in character-although, to be fair, there's precious little Bible-thumping. My son attends a non-denominational school run by a corporate group. ///// His school will be subject to reservations because it is neither Christian nor Muslim. That it is not particularly Hindu either is another matter. The logic is simple: Hindus need to be controlled; minorities have earned their freedom. If this is secularism, it stinks. ///// Unless the Supreme Court strikes down this perversion, the message for the "majority" is clear: Convert or perish. Better still, migrate. ///// ..000000000