Focus on Policy, Yes Policy: Equalisation of Opportunity

Periods of crises can be periods of worry and depression. In the alternative case, these periods can also be times for opportunities for evolution of new ideas and actions. It was with this understanding that I had emphasised in my last piece in this column thus: “….. that the practice of isolated pride and egotism of different disciplines have only led to the present exposure of their isolated weaknesses. Now there is no alternative to integrated approaches to understanding of issues and evolution of policies.

This is where the significance of four things arise for sure: (a) the creation and establishment of contextual thinking capability at every contextual level; (b) the creation and establishment again at every critical social level of capability to link up with the global thinking and interventions; (c) the involvement of a cross-section of stakeholders at every level such that the contextual understanding and interventions have owners at the contextual levels; and (d) the adoption of social as a term inclusive of economic, political, digital and scientific dimensions.”

My focus, given the richness in multidimensional-diversity in our country, has all along been on contextualisation of understanding of issues and related problems across the country and creation of capabilities at decentralised levels such that the problems are addressed in inclusive ways across the country with capabilities created in a decentralised fashion. It is in this context that I concluded my previous piece thus: “the contextual appreciation of the social challenges being faced by the children and the youths should now be initiated in every level across the country.

The appreciation of these social challenges should be followed up by identifying the differential components for the policy interventions in terms of the economic, digital, moral and scientific aspects. The challenge for the state is that every child and every youth should be able to feel and experience the equalisation of opportunities in every aspect of social existence. The importance for this lies in making the children and the youths feel the existence for hope and sustenance of expectations for the future. The absence of these would be a very fertile ground for the violence and conflicts to emerge and multiply.”

I had emphasised the primacy of attending to the needs of children and youths for their prosperity in the particular experienced context of India since 1947, the social unrests, agitations and uprisings since then. Attending to the needs of children and youths are significant as it relates to making the future different and superior to what have been our experiences so far. Kautilya’s Arthasatra empathises the responsibility of the King on creation of new villages thus: “the king shall not only keep in good repair timber and elephant forests, buildings, and mines created in the past, but also set up new ones.”

Here I find the contributions of a living Economist, John Roemer, interesting and significant on creation and establishments of settlements prosperous with social justice. Roemer emphasises equalisation of opportunities as the cornerstone of the guiding principles of social action as it would rule out or at least reduce the scope for protests. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines this thus: “Equality of opportunity is a political ideal that is opposed to caste hierarchy but not to hierarchy per se.

The background assumption is that a society contains a hierarchy of more and less desirable, superior and inferior positions. Or there may be several such hierarchies. In a caste society, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is fixed by birth. The child acquires the social status of his or her parents at least if their union is socially sanctioned. Social mobility may be possible in a caste society, but the process whereby one is admitted to a different level of the hierarchy is open only to some individuals depending on their initial ascriptive social status. In contrast, when equality of opportunity prevails, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is determined by some form of competitive process, and all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms. Different conceptions of equality of opportunity construe this idea of competing on equal terms variously.”

The distribution of access to opportunities for social advancement and the consequent distribution of benefits of economic advancement have not been marked by inclusiveness in India. This is not a scenario which would facilitate the national objectives of peace and coherence within, and relevance to the global political economy without. The differential impacts of the COVID19 pandemic across economic, regional and social classes have been very telling in this country. This has established the rationale primacy for adopting Equalisation of Opportunity as the guiding principle for formulation and adoption of policies.

Now coming to policies, I had highlighted how the traditional demarcation of sectors as imperfect for attending to the needs of the country and the society within for enabling satisfactory performance for facing the global challenges while simultaneously robustly solving domestic issues. In other words, the primacy today is to conceptualise the social as social rather than as demarcated economic, demographic or other differentials. While simultaneously recognising the natural differentials, we have also to accept the similar commonality of the requirements for advancement.

This is how we should be conceiving to evolve social policies (necessarily inclusive of economic, health, education, digital and other contemporary dimensions for participation and advancement in societal functioning) to attend to the enrichment of our children and youths for participation in nation-building. While the focus on children and youths is recognised, the next is about the principle of governance of the policy interventions. This is where the significance of the principle of equalisation of opportunities arises. Recognising the multidimensional diversity of the country, the adoption of this principle is paramount for justice and permanent avoidance of the conflict-like situations arising now and then in certain parts of the country.

In fine, let us attend to the needs of our children and youths on a priority basis, and make the principle of equalisation of opportunity as our guiding framework for ensuring peaceful and inclusive transformation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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