Thursday, September 15, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Accrued Social Capital over Individual Merit - By R. Ravi Kumar

Accrued Social Capital over Individual

by *R. Ravi Kumar*

The debate on merit has once again come to the forefront with the movie
'Aarakshan'. From various press clippings and debates on the movie one can
come to the conclusion that the 'Aarakshan' team is much worried about the
victimization of merit due to reservations for the disadvantaged groups.
Though there was no scene in the movie derogating the rule of reservations,
in summary the movie explicitly conveys the message that whatever may be the
historic and social reasons to defend the rule of reservations, all that is
null and void as the positioning of the candidates from the stream of
reservations is fragile and hence questionable. That this is the stance of
the Aarakshan team was clear from their arguments in various debates on TV.
In one such debate that featured Shri Punia, the Chairman, National
Commission for Scheduled Castes, telecast live on 11th Aug, Mr. Amitabh
Bachchan and Mr. Prakash Jha had defended their movie by saying that, let's
provide equal opportunities to every one and then judge them on merit
considering various implementation flaws in reservations. Before judging the
'Aarakshan' team's wisdom on their choice of story line, I would like to
depict some live examples which have sabotaged the merit among socially
comparable groups in India. Also how individual merit becomes insignificant
practically in a competition.[image: a_social_capital]

What's the proven merit of Mr. Rahul Gandhi that made him the Lok Sabha
M.P., from Amethi? What's the proven merit of Mr. Sachin Pilot that has made
him the member of the decision making coterie of Rahul Gandhi or 'High
Command' of the Congress Party? And what's the proven merit of Mr
Jyotiraditya Scindia, Madhavrao Scindia's son?

Are there no meritorious candidates than this trio within their
constituencies? Have the late fathers of these three heroes left no second
line leadership and made way only for their children to reach their present
positions? One can raise several similar questions about their own success.
However the answer is very simple: the Accrued Social Capital of their
fathers have made them big, rather biggest in their constituencies.

This scenario is not only limited to politics, it can be seen even in
academics, for example, four sons of two well-known professors (I don't want
to name them) belonging to Hyderabad could become faculty members by
demonstrating their Accrued Social Capital by over-riding the individual
merit of all other competitors. Two sons of one of these professors are in
the same university, with one son in the same discipline as the father, and
both of them are in the same school. In the second case (he is more popular
as a human rights activist than an expert in his own discipline), here
again, one of the two sons got in to the same school in the same university,
and the second one has secured a position in a much more reputed university
in Delhi. Summing up, in all these cases one son of each of these Professors
is in the same discipline as their fathers, and the second one is in the
same school. Every other competitor vying for any of those four positions
has to remain satisfied with, or rather accept the accrued social capital of
these young academicians and keep silent. If anybody talks about it in
public they may never be able to get in to academics in the country, which
is yet another example of the strength of Accrued Social Capital over
individual merit.

In the same way, what's the proven merit of the two sons of Dhirubhai
Ambani, one of whom was made one of the highest paid executives in the
world? By virtue of the law of inheritance of property they have the right
to become the owners of the wealth of their father, but how could one of
them become one among the highest paid executives? What about their
individual proven merit? In this case, it is not only Accrued Social Capital
of their family but also financial capital which made them the most

One can go on illustrating such cases. This is a common phenomenon whenever
two persons compete in the country where merit matters and what ever may be
the social group they belong to.

If this is the fate of merit among equals what will happen to the
individual merit of millions of disadvantaged groups who could not accrue
any social capital? What ever little social capital is accrued by
disadvantaged groups in the past sixty years due to reservations has gained
more negative value rather than helping them in demonstrating their merit.

Hence I feel that the film maker of Aarakshan and the team has projected
(again in the backdrop of enormous Accrued Social Capital of Big 'B' in one
generation in the film industry) the most insignificant aspect of the merit
debate rather then dealing with the gigantic and more powerful Accrued
Social Capital.

Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, being a former parliamentarian and a highly respected
film actor, should reflect on how and why film makers are investing big
amounts in movies acted by his son, who has only recently entered the
industry. Has his son ever faced the need to prove himself as an actor to
establish himself? He should recollect how much he himself had to struggle
to become such a Big B in the industry though his father is a well known

One may dismiss the argument of Accrued Social Capital with nepotism. If
one does it, he/she will fail to understand the dynamics of the Accrued
Social Capital. It is very dynamic, several things have to fall in place for
it to be successful. It is also influenced by time and space. Also the
person should have some entry in to the field to make better use of the
Accrued Social Capital of the family. Hence Accrued Social Capital may also
be considered as the merit of meritorious. So dear Mr. Prakash Jha and Mr.
Amitabh Bachchan, given your Accrued Social Capital, it will be heroic if
you can make a movie which depicts this merit of the meritorious. *It is a
shame to your heroism if you also choose to victimize the victimized.*

Let's examine merit from a practical point of view. In principle, merit is
nothing but a demonstrated ability of a person in a competition. Rather a
process and means to eliminate undesired persons from a competition to
retain the desired. A competition is nothing but an event organized by a
group of individuals representing an institution or an agency. It is a
specific time bound event. The organizers of the event have got the
opportunity to define the desirability and have the power to manipulate what
they want to be the output of the competition. If merit is the demonstrated
ability of an individual in a competition which has so many limitations and
conditions, how will the product of it, merit, have any objectivity? Merit
becomes notional if we compare performance. For eg., if we compare the
performance of the toppers of UPSC with their fellow batch mates, it gets
further nullified, there is no correlation between the performance of the
toppers and the rest of the same batch.

Hence the debate on merit and calling someone as meritorious doesn't mean
anything, especially in a society where Accrued Social Capital supersedes
the individual's abilities totally.

*R.Ravi Kumar** is Secretary of the National Dalit Forum.*

Cartoon by *Unnamati Syama Sundar. *

B.Karthik Navayan,

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