Our Wonderful Quotocracy

by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

courtesy: Indian Express

There is a constitutional revolution underway. It has long been in the making. But its full logic is unfolding now. This new type of regime it will beget defies classification. It cannot be captured by the categories bequeathed by those who understood different regime types: Plato or Polybius, Aristotle or Kautilya, Montesquieu or Madison. This new regime is not a monarchy, aristocracy, republic or a democracy. It has its distinct identity, values and institutional frame. Behold all, the rise of Quotocracy! Experience the bliss that is this new dawn.

The principles behind quotocracy need to be carefully understood. It arises out of a democracy and often gets confused with it. But make no mistake. Quotocracy is distinct. A democracy values choice. Voters are free to elect whoever they wish. In a quotocracy, voters by turn are obliged to vote for someone with particular ascriptive characteristics. In a democracy, a general will is possible. In principle people can reason in terms that take all relevant reasons into consideration and are good for all. In a quotocracy, by definition there are only particular reasons and interests: men for men, women for women, caste for caste. A general will is a conceptual impossibility.

Montesquieu said each regime has a principle that sustains its best form. In despotism it is fear, in aristocracy it is honour, in republics it is virtue. Quotocracy has its own principle: victimhood. No quotocracy can be sustained without it. The currency of new claims is the narrative of hurt. The axis of competition is also victimhood: those who do not get that status are left most aggrieved. The identification of each new victim group escalates the race for identifying the next.

Democracies occasionally make exceptions to redress gross injustice. In a quotocracy, the exception is the norm. OBCs want quotas for themselves, but not for women. Women want for themselves, but not for OBCs. And no one wants for Muslims. Some say, “Why do women need quotas? Why don’t parties give tickets?” But in a quotocracy this question is not legitimate. However, those who deny the legitimacy of this question use this same argument when the demand for sub-quotas is made. “Why not give OBC women tickets under the quota?” But don’t confuse this with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can exist only in a democracy, when ideals do not match reality. In a quotocracy, exception is the norm.

Democracies have ideological contention: between left and right, liberty and equality, secular and religious. Quotocracy has consensus: all divisions between left, right and centre are dissolved by quota. And those who oppose quotas are accused of treason. In a way there is justice to this charge. After all, in quotocracy, opposing quota is like subverting a regime. Quotocracy creates a new distinction between public and private. Privately you may oppose quota, but you politically act on that belief at your own peril.

Quotocracy has its own conception of justice. It is not equality, or capability or fitness or fairness. It is simple arithmetic: 33 here, 22 there, 50 for the rest. And since arithmetic can be complicated there is no point doing fractions and subdivisions. Simple quota is just what justice is. In a democracy, where you came from should matter less than where you are going. It seeks to make de jure rights and privileges we have less and less dependent upon our identity. A quotocracy is the reverse. It makes de jure rights dependent upon identity. A democracy prizes individuality (not to be confused with its bad cousin, individualism). Quotocracy prizes group think. You are your group. Democracy values self-identification. You should be whatever you wish to or choose to be or name yourself. Quotocracy is premised upon ascription. You are what the state certificate says you are: SC/ ST or OBC. You can be this and no other. Democracy is suspicious giving the state power to construct identities. Quotocracy creates new identities by using state power to create incentives.

A quotocracy has a new separation of powers. OBCs get reservation in jobs and education but don’t deserve it in politics. Women can get it in Lok Sabha but not Rajya Sabha. Women get reservation in politics but don’t get it in jobs. In a quotocracy, legislation and administration are also confused. Panchayats are equated with supreme law making bodies forgetting that they have different functions.

Quotocracy also has its own logic of mystification. Tocqueville said that in a democracy the myth of formal equality can disguise substantive inequality. In a quotocracy, the fact that select individuals from some communities are empowered is considered as empowering the community. And this mystification is justified as a compensation for democracy’s mystification. Since in a democracy there is a gap between formal and substantive equality, in a quotocracy we can empower elites within communities with impunity and call it empowerment for all.

Democracy strives for deliberation. For quotocracy getting numbers right is paramount. Democracy is bound by constitutionalism. It is hemmed in by a diversity of values. Quotocracy makes constitutionalism subordinate to itself. So what if some states exceed 50 per cent and the courts for fear are unable to pronounce a verdict. Quotocracy redefines the scale of values: excellence is a ruse for domination, self-reliance a tactic for injustice and so forth.

Democracy thrives on historical traditions associated with its founding. A quotocracy thrives on historical amnesia. The British used two tactics: divide and rule. And they said that we were infants because we could not think outside of caste and community. We were incapable of self-government. Quotocracy likes divide and rule. And it also thinks we are incapable of self-government. Our identities need to be boxed. Our founders worked hard to combat ascriptive identities. They rejected two-nation theories, separate electorates, narcissism of partial groups, communal representation, caste censuses. The logic of quotocracy is to bring them back. Democracy seeks to unite despite differences. Quotocracy seeks to divide despite commonalities.

But democracy and quotocracy have this in common: they are never complete. They are always a work in progress. Democracy has to continually dissolve hierarchy. Quotocracy has to continually create new quotas. In a democracy, all animals are equal but some more equal than others. In a quotocracy, some deprived groups will get their deprivations recognised more than others.

Quotocracy is truly revolutionary. Make no mistake about it. It is deeper than most revolutions because it needs a new moral vocabulary. And it needs a new political science to understand it. Prepare for the Age of Quotocracy.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi