People are always complaining about how politicians are so self-seeking. I've done it myself. Thinking about it though, it seems to me that this is the wrong criticism to be making. That in fact, politicians are supposed to be self-seeking, that's why we have democracies in the first place.
Think about it this way - suppose we actually had a bunch of leaders who were entirely selfless - whose only aspiration was to dedicate themselves to serving the country, and then pass on power to others just like them. Assume for a moment that we could identify these leaders with complete certainty. Why would we need democracy then? Absent mala fide intent, we could just leave these benevolent leaders of ours to run the country for us, couldn't we? Okay, so we'd still need to tell them what it was we wanted, but we could just do that through opinion polls - we wouldn't need any actual power over these people - we'd just tell them what we wanted and if enough of us wanted it or were okay with it they'd go ahead and do it.
Well, not quite. Actually, they'd be able to do better. To the extent that the common people don't know what's good for them, these leaders could actually make decisions that would, in fact, be in the interest of the general good, even though the population in general couldn't figure them out.
The problem is, I think, that we've got so used to celebrating democracy, that we've somehow convinced ourselves that it's the best system of government in every way possible. That's simply not true. The fact is that democracy is neither particularly efficient or effective as a system - it's inefficient because democratic decision making is a far more time taking process than centralised decision making, it's ineffective because decisions have to be reduced to the lowest common denominator. There's fairly good reason to believe that, absent self-interest, a quorum of relevant experts could do as good, if not better, a job of running the country as a government by the people and of the people.
The rub is that self-interest is never absent. That's why we need democracy. Not because it's the super-optimal system of government, but because it's the only system of government that will safeguard us from the misuse of power, that will ensure that we can keep the incentives of our leaders aligned with the our own interests, that will limit the harm that the government can do . That's why we're willing to live with the inefficiencies and headaches of democracy - because it mitigates downside risk. If we could have a government that was for the people without being of the people or by the people, we would choose it in a heartbeat, it's because that's not possible, because it's an all or nothing deal, that we choose democracy .
How then do we deal with value-destroying yet populist measures like reservations? Certainly not by appealing to the enlightened nobility of our politicians, because it doesn't exist. The real need here is for voter education, not for pointless discussion with politicians. In the end, every democracy gets the government it deserves . If it is really true that people are going to be stupid enough to vote for this government because they went ahead and gave them some entirely meaningless sops, putting in place measures that cost the government nothing (no matter what it may cost the country) and provided no benefit whatsoever to the truly underpriviliged, then all the Karan Thapar interviews in the world will not make the government change its mind. Why should they, if they can get votes so easily?
What we need then, is a way of communicating to the truly underpriviliged why this measure is meaningless for them, and why, if they really want to see their children do better, they need to reject this kind of populism and demand that the government take action where it's really needed - in primary education. No politician in his right mind is going to go against the will of the people. What he can and will do is try to mould the will of the people so that he can get the maximum votes with the minimum effort. The point of public debate is not to change his mind about this - the point of public debate is to ensure that the people understand how he's trying to dupe them and don't let him get away with it. How that's to be done, of course is beyond me  (you didn't really think I was going to have a solution, did you?) but as we bemoan the stupidity of reservations, it's a point that I think is worth keeping in mind.
P.S. Forgive me. It's been that kind of a day.
 The obvious analogy is with shareholder rights. No one seriously believes that the shareholders can run the company better than managers, but limit the power of shareholders over managers and you end up with Enron.
 This, of course, is why all those silly debates in high school about whether India should have a dictatorship never got anywhere - because one side was arguing what dictatorships could do, and the other what they would do.
 That's not strictly true, of course. Every country gets the best of the alternatives on offer that it deserves. You need to add a secondary assumption which says that if an issue is important enough to a sufficient number of people, there will be a political party representing that interest group, for the free market analogy to hold. But that's not too drastic an assumption.
 Though one would imagine that the press has a big role to play. Which is why the decline of newspapers in India is such a blow - we bloggers can have all the intelligent discussions we want - it's the mass media that matters.
Categories: CurrentAffairs, Universe