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News Tip: What’s Behind Opposition to India’s Version of Affirmative Action

One cause is that the lack of private-sector jobs, says Anirudh Krishna

India’s version of affirmative action is under attack, in part because the country’s “rapid economic growth has not resulted in any great increase in private-sector jobs,” says a Duke University expert on democracy in developing nations. •    Quotes: "There has always been controversy about caste quotas in government job recruitment and career advancement, which were instituted soon after India became an independent nation. In recent decades, economics and politics have combined forces to worsen the controversy,” says Anirudh Krishna, a professor of public policy at Duke University who worked 14 years in the Indian Administrative Service.“One reason why caste-based quotas have become a flashpoint is because India’s rapid economic growth has not resulted in any great increase in private-sector jobs. India’s growth path has relied heavily on the high-tech services sector, staffed by relatively few highly-trained specialists. All but 8 percent of working-age Indians are currently employed in the informal sector -- where people have no security of tenure, no benefits, no legal contract, and thus no protection against under-payment or arbitrary dismissal.”“As a result, government positions are in greater demand than ever. More than half a million compete each year for the 100 or so positions in the elite Indian Administrative Service.”“In addition, in 1990, India’s central government extended job reservations to a less well-defined category of Other Backward Castes. The determination of which group qualifies as backward remains murky and is left largely to the calculations of vote-seeking politicians, rather than being based on clear-cut criteria that can be applied fairly across the board. Ironically, in order to move forward, castes agitate to be declared backward.”“When the economic logic motivating individual caste agitators meets the political logic of party organizations, mayhem of the kind we are seeing currently in Gujarat will naturally result.”•    Bio:Anirudh Krishna is the Edgar T. Thompson Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy and a professor of political science at Duke University. He leads Duke’s summer graduate Program for Future International Development Leaders in Udaipur, India. Before joining academia, Krishna worked 14 years in the Indian Administrative Service.•    For additional comment, contact Krishna