Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No Country for Bold Men

The newly formed Telangana state announced a “nativity” survey.  In response to protests, the government clarified that it is just to profile citizens of the newly formed state. Of course, the Census of India doesn’t do that (why should we believe another government’s survey, even if it is our own national government?). 

So now, ostensibly, the profile is supposed to identify the fake beneficiaries of various schemes.  Every scheme inevitably needs a document of eligibility – a ration card, an ID card (BPL), a caste certificate, a passport. All these documents are provided by the state. However, why should we believe the state’s own documents when we may conduct another survey? This time, the coverage of millions of people, will be miraculously fake-proof. Who says we aren’t perfectionist?

The real reason, like it or not, is to identify a segment called Telangana natives. After all this is  reason the state was formed. Community based discrimination has been addressed largely (reservation policies) as has poverty based discrimination (BPL cards). Neither is perfect, but 1.2 billion people are a large number. Accuracy can’t be handled on Facebook, it requires real, live persons and an industrial era relic called paper.

Similar echoes of nativity has been doing the rounds through extreme right wing organizations in Mumbai, Bengaluru and some other places. The TRS has its roots in left wing politics (if one must classify such things). Both wings want natives – of the city or state or region. There seems little reason to classify them as left or right.

Natives can access opportunities – preferential quotas, government dole and subsidies. These aren’t minor.

  • In Tamil Nadu, a few years ago, it got you a free TV set.  The free TV set didn’t come with free electricity in a power deficit state. But that’s another matter altogether.
  • Or better still, admissions to educational institutions.  Why bother expanding the supply of educational institutions to resolve such problems? Better to reserve seats and admissions. There must be some mathematical logic to ensuring everyone has access to education with deficit supply that clever politicians and activists know about.
  • And jobs. Government is a huge employer and can stipulate job holdings for locals. The “local jobs” aspect is called participatory and inclusive economic development – by some – and anti-market – by others. When a tribal chieftain in a struggling state asks for such things – it’s an extortive tax. When its backed by a law it is called “inclusive development”.

As a citizen of India, I may soon be wondering about my “nativity” within India.  As this would affect the scope for a normal life – no school admissions, higher priced services and many such things. Plus I’ll have to buy an expensive TV.  The children may have to seek jobs in places where they aren’t natives. Some categories of non-reserved jobs are white-collar private sector …but that’s controlled by admissions to universities (in short supply) that make one eligible. The other category is menial jobs especially those viewed as “dirty”.  No one has yet raised the flag for reservation of jobs on watchmen (they’re called guards or security these days in cities), domestic help, latrine cleaning and so on.  Don’t knock this. It’s a global phenomenon relative to the prosperity of the economy. Dirty tasks like call centres moved out, till the host economy hit the skids – now they want them back. All are welcome to do hard manual labour on construction crews, farms, plantations and so on. Non-natives may do such work freely.  

All this points towards a growing tribalization – all those rights enshrined in our Constitution are more likely to be available when you live with your own tribe in your native place.

Don’t decry this as “terrible”, “regressive”, “stone age” etc.  Its particularly not stone age (and plenty of other metallic and non-metallic ages since then). In fact till about a hundred years ago people in most parts of the world could go and live anywhere and make a living, settle down, own, and prosper. They had to find a way to blend in to the community ethos – however good or bad it was (migrants).  Or become powerful enough to rewrite the rules for themselves (colonizers).

Whatever might be the criticism of Telangana’s approach on nativity (as an Indian it has me worried), it is exactly the same approach used by nation-states to divide people and their access to opportunity. Ratified by laws (passports, visas etc) that are enforced, like it or not, with brute physical force. We seem to have accepted that it is some divine or evolutionary diktat (this is my contribution to “inclusive” – lest the atheists or theists feel discriminated against) that parts of our planet belong to someone and no one else is allowed there.

Somehow, long term, by restricting opportunities it seems we’ll have fewer wars, less conflict and inequality. Some passing comet may throw an energy beam that will convert our minds to healthy co-existence.

Meanwhile, there seems bigger barriers to being bold and leaving your native place. It’s a world where there is no country for bold men.