Two recent events have brought up a subject that the middle class does not like: reservations. Union minister Ramdas Athavale has asked for reservations in cricket, saying that the Indian team has a poor record. If it were to include more communities, it could perform better. Before we look at the issue, let’s look at the data. Is Mr Athavale right in saying that India’s national team loses more than it wins? The answer is: yes.
In Test cricket, India has a losing record against Australia (lost 41, won 26), England (lost 43, won 25), Pakistan (lost 12, won 9), West Indies (lost 30, won 18) and South Africa (lost 13, won 10). We have winning records against Bangladesh, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. The record in one-day internationals is not very different. We have a losing record against Australia (lost 72, won 41), Pakistan (lost 73, won 52), West Indies (lost 61, won 56) and South Africa (lost 45, won 29). We’ve been able to win more than lose against only England (lost 39, won 52). Clearly Mr Athavale is right.
We are 130 crore people (our population is more than twice as much as all other cricketing nations put together), and if this is our merit-based record, then it is not out of place to look at ways of improving it. We should be open to looking at Mr Athavale’s suggestion of reservations. India will not be unique if it chooses to do this. Last year, South Africa put in place racial quotas in their cricket team. The playing 11 must have six players of colour, of whom at least two must be black African — meaning that players of Indian or subcontinental origin like Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir can be included in the six but not the two. Why did they do this? Because black Africans are 80 per cent of the population but don’t have fair representation. Whites are 10 per cent of the population but have always dominated the team, as Indians who follow cricket will know. The reason is that access to sporting facilities, training and coaching at the highest level was only for whites during Apartheid. Even Indians, who are only two per cent of the South African population, get good representation in the team and so it was necessary that there be a quota for blacks. Has this quota affected the team’s performance? No. Countries around the world will testify to the fact that they remain one of the most difficult sides to beat. But the real benefit to the South African side will come in the decades ahead. Young black Africans will find role models and will be drawn to cricket.
In India dalits and adivasis constitute about 25 per cent of the total population. However, their representation is close to zero. It is easy to think of the Indian squad’s Brahmin players from around the country (Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Srinath, Kumble), but it is difficult to come up with names of those from marginalised communities, dalits and adivasis, who have played for India. Mr Athavale has asked for 25 per cent reservations, but even if that number is unacceptable, we should think about the issue and discuss and debate it rather than dismissing it out of hand.
The second story about reservations is in politics. The BJP nominated a dalit to be the President of India. This is a smart and wise move and will ensure that the nominee, former Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind, will get elected with plenty of bipartisan support. Mr Kovind is not from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and is a relatively recent member of the BJP (he joined the party in his 40s). He represents the uneasy relationship the RSS and the BJP have with dalits. The BJP’s dalit MPs like Udit Raj can testify. Instinctively, the Hindutva party is against reservations and inclusion. We can see this from the list of RSS sarsanghachalaks (Hedgewar, Paranjape, Golwalkar, Deoras, Sudarshan and current chief Mohan Bhagwat). All of them are Brahmin. Only one RSS chief has been non-Brahmin, Rajendra Singh, also from an upper caste. It should be said that it is easier for Hindutva to make a dalit the President of India than the head of the RSS. The common defence of the RSS against this accusation is: “We don’t ask about caste and we don’t notice it.” This is what corporate India will also say when asked how inclusive it is. That’s the same thing the Indian team will also say. But it hides the reality of discrimination and exclusion. Inclusion and diversity in the long run will help the cricket team and the country. To those who say that our record will be blemished by this action, I will point at the data and say we are not a particularly good team against strong sides in any case. We should not use that as an excuse and we should seriously consider what Mr Athavale says.