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First, if the UB Group went bust, landing the owner in a debt that ran into a whopping amount over Rs 7,500 crore and subsequent shame, it was not because its employees were selected on the basis of caste-based reservation. All the executives, who caused the great fall of the UB Group, should have been, as is the norm in such big companies, ‘meritorious’ professionals, who did not enter the company on the basis of reservation. It is an incident that should impel all those who flay the reservation policy of the government, without any application of mind or any statistical data to back, to have a rethink on it. All those who say that it was the quota system that bred inefficiency in the various departments should make an honest reprisal and an objective and impartial analysis of professional efficiency. For, no government company fell the way Vijay Mallaya’s empire went down crashing.
Two, when such a hue and cry was raised across all media over a private individual, facing no criminal charges, getting away with a huge debt, suggesting that the government could have stopped him if it had the will, was it not implicitly admitting that private companies can be made to listen to the people of the land. In fact, no company, private or public, can operate without a slew of government licenses, permissions and approvals, besides adhering to a plethora of laws relating to labour, environment, safety and so on. So, if the government passes a law mandating private companies to implement the reservation policy that has been following, no company can say ‘no’, at least technically.
Besides, in the present day context, as the UB Group case revealed, no big private company – and of course most of the small companies, too – can claim to be functioning solely on the financial strength of the investment of private individuals. All companies take loans from banks, which deal with public money. So, when the company is run on people’s pelf that is extended as loans, how can it say that the government cannot interfere in its affairs. In a democratic nation, where the will of the people is supreme, an elected government is well within its powers to ensure that social justice is done everywhere, even in the privately-owned companies that depend on various facilities given by the government.
Even if one were to point to some business ventures that were started with only private capital, the question is: How did the individuals or families or clans had so much money, in the first place. A cursory analysis on the background of that class of people, whose forefathers had amassed extraordinary wealth that has been invested in the industry with a view to multiplying the wealth, you will realise that the traditionally moneyed people belong to the upper castes. Vijay Mallaya himself is a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin. Many other top companies are owned by Brahmins and upper caste aristocrats. History has it that the upper castes perpetuated their control over land and other natural resources during the British rule and managed to disposes the lower caste by assigning them menial work and not letting them own property on the basis of caste-based regulations and laws.
So, is it not the bounden duty of independent India to set right the wrongs committed during colonial rule? Should not the progeny of those dispossessed with the help of the British be compensated now? Well, these are just arguments to buttress the claim that reservation in private sector is only an ethical and right demand and to keep all those naysayers at bay. In the case of caste-based reservation in educational institutions and in jobs, its opponents are so vociferous and overweening in the propagation of their skewed idea of ‘meritocracy’ that some successful persons from the marginalized community, too, erroneously consider the reservation policy as something that goes against the grain of merit and efficiency.
If no one has asked for reservation in private sector openly so far, well, the time has come for that now. At least, after seeing a mighty business empire like UB Group going down due to the rampant caste-based nepotism in the employment of executives, we should stress on the need for recruitment to be regularized in the private sector. For those Doubting Thomases who ask how can one be so sure that the UB Group recruitment was not fair and proper, let me quote from an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly (dated August 11, 2012), ‘Corporate Boards in India – Blocked by Caste’, which says “Indian corporate boards continue to remain “old boys clubs” based on caste affiliation rather than on other considerations (like merit or experience)’
That article was based on a study, which was a preliminary attempt to understand the influence of caste in determining corporate control in India. ‘This could provide evidence of its link with political power as many studies have shown the close and profound influence of corporates in political and economic decision-making,’ the article by D Ajit, Han Donker and Ravi Saxena of the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada, said.
‘An examination of the caste diversity of Indian corporate boards of a thousand top Indian companies – accounting for four-fifths of market capitalisation of all companies listed in the major stock indices in India – measured by the Blau index shows that their median score for 2010 is zero, indicating that there is no diversity at all’, the article said and it found the caste-wise distribution of the total 9,052 corporate board members in 2010 as follows: Forward caste 8,387 (92.6%), of which Brahmin 4,037 (44.6%), Vaishyas 4,167 (46.0%) Kshatriya (43 0.5) and others like Syrian Christians 137 (1.5%); Other Backward Classes 346 (3.8%) and SC/ST 319 (3.5%).
Well, in the six years after the study, the percentage of OBCs, SCs and STs in the corporate boards of India could have even dropped significantly. But no one needs to say that there is a marked low representation of marginalized communities in other positions in private companies. Even the IT boom after the 1990s, which caused considerable damage to the cultural, social and economic fabric of our society, despite generating more jobs, saw the upper caste students having an edge, leaving large numbers of youth from the marginalized communities to take up work less commensurate with their education. Besides, the IT boom, in general, led to more automation and reduction of jobs in the various sectors. Even government jobs were cut.
Talented and qualified candidates from the marginalized communities, however, managed to get into public sector companies and even grow to top level positions. But the previous NDA government set up a separate ministry for privatizing as many public sector companies as possible in its tenure. Headed by former newspaper editor Arun Shourie, the Union Ministry of Disinvestment sold off government companies, which deprived thousands of youth from getting jobs through the quota system.
In the present day context, the job market is dominated by the private sector, where recruitments are made according to the whims and fancies of the executives who run those companies. There is rampant nepotism, mostly based on caste, and it is making the private sector less diverse and also financially weak due to gross inefficiency of the recruits. Well, with the UB Group fiasco still fresh in our mind, we need not have to recall the incidents of big companies falling due to mismanagement. The situation is so grave that it calls for the government to step in and regularize the recruitment. By ensuring that social justice is done in the recruitments in the private sector, the government could at least put the nation one step closer to achieving an equitable society.
(The author is a Chennai-based journalist)