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Sheila's Thackeray act

Over the course of half a century, electoral politics has never failed to take a heavy toll on unsuspecting victims. As polling day approaches, populism rules over reason and immediate returns in the hustings far outweigh long term damages. Adding to this glorious tradition of vote-over-reason is three time Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, who now wants as many as 12,000 seats in the prestigious Delhi University to be reserved for ‘locals’. Never mind the fact that this move would undermine the inclusive cultural ethos of Delhi University -- it would also set off a dangerous precedent that really does not have a full stop. It’s a journey into parochial jingoism that Mumbai is only too familiar with.

Halfway into the academic session (and more importantly just days before the model code of conduct comes into effect in poll bound Delhi) the Sheila Dikshit government has announced a virtual bonanza for Delhizens, hoping to make it much easier for local students to find a seat in Delhi University (where percentages are known to touch 99 per cent on a regular basis). The central government, thankfully, may scuttle this brazen move; most of Delhi University comes under the Central government and dependence on Delhi government for funds is minimal. 

However, this showcases the desperation of an incumbent government to cling to power -- even willing to alter the DNA of one of the few remaining ‘national universities’ of India. Such is the vote-bank potential of this move that even the BJP has got into the act -- claiming that it was their pressure that forced the Delhi government to make this move.

Lost in this political battle of me-too is the fact that Delhi University’s nomenclature is misleading -- the university was envisaged as a center of excellence that would attract the best talent from across the nation… something that it has successfully done over the last few decades.

The fact that a rustic boy from a government school in Darbhanga has the same chance of entering Delhi University as a Delhi bred St Columbus student —-- is a testament to the educational parity that DU has brought about. There is nothing ‘Delhi’ about Delhi University, it’s more like an India University. Shutting off this talent and diversity tap will kill the spirit of the university and dramatically lower the academic standards as well.

Today, the Delhi government wants 12,000 of the 55,000 odd seats in Delhi University to be blocked off for ‘locals’, next election that figure could jump to 25,000 and more after that. Then would come a demand for reservation in jobs and assault on ‘outsiders’. It’s an all too familiar script that usually has an innocuous beginning. Mumbai’s been made to walk this path and today is fast losing its ‘cosmopolitan’ tag.

The city’s industry and enterprise struggles to maintain its earlier breathless pace; maybe Delhi should take a lesson from Maximum City on the brand of politics – not to play. Politics that yields sterling results in the near future, but ultimately implodes without exception.

The answer perhaps lies not in more quotas, but in creating cutting edge universities and specialty colleges, in partnering with reputed private players for creation of second campuses, in renewed focus on e-learning and vocational training. However these are long term initiatives, requiring thought and vision; totally impractical when you can impress people with a parochial quota.

If the Thackeray script is copied by the Delhi chief minister and beyond -- then get ready for IIM Ahmedabad with Gujarati quota and maybe even a Mumbai quota for IIT Bombay. Exciting No?

-- The writer is an alumnus of Delhi University’s Hindu College & St Stephen’s College 

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