Published On  Feb 12,  2012






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In a world dominated by democracy, a new political idealogy is arising based on the quota system. This system undermines the foundation of democracy in such a way as to deserve its own title, quotocracy. It trades democracy’s myth of formal equality for its own mystification, but this mystification is worse, writes Pratap Bhanu Metha (PhD), the president of the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank based in Delhi, India, in a commentary first published in The Indian Express.


Mutated Quotocracy Swaps Democracy



There is a constitutional revolution underway. It has long been in the making, but its full logic is unfolding now.

The new type of regime it will beget defies classification. It cannot be captured by the categories bequeathed by those who understand different regime types: Plato or Polybius, Aristotle or Kautilya, Montesquieu or Madison.

This new regime is not a monarchy, aristocracy, republic, or democracy. It has a 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, in turn, are obliged to vote for someone with particular ascriptive characteristics.

In a democracy, 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. General will is a conceptual impossibility.

Each regime has a principle that sustains its best form, Montesquieu said. In despotism it is fear, in aristocracy it is honour, and 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.

Men want quotas for themselves but not for women. Women want for themselves, but not for men.

Some say, “Why do women need quotas? Why do parties not 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 men tickets under the quota?”

But, do not 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 contentions between left and right, liberty and equality, and secular and religious. Quotocracy has consensus: all divisions between left, right, and centre are dissolved by quota.

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, one may oppose quota, but she politically acts on that belief at her own peril.

Quotocracy has its own conception of justice. It is not equality, capability, fitness, or fairness. It is simple arithmetic: 33 here, 22 there, 50 for the rest.

Since arithmetic can be complicated, there is no point in doing fractions and subdivisions. A simple quota is just what justice is.

In a democracy, where one comes from should matter less than where one is going. It seeks to make de jure rights and privileges less and less dependent upon identity.

A quotocracy is the reverse. It makes de jure rights dependent upon identity. A democracy prizes individuality (not to be confused with its evil cousin, individualism). Quotocracy prizes group think. An individual is his group.

Democracy values self-identification. One should be whatever she wishes, chooses,  or names himself.

Quotocracy is premised upon ascription. She is what the state certificate says she is. He 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. Some get reservations in jobs and education but do not deserve them in politics, or they get reservations in politics but not in jobs.

In a quotocracy, legislation and administration are also confused. Administrative organs are equated with supreme lawmaking bodies, forgetting that they have different functions.

Quotocracy also has its own logic of mystification. In a democracy, the myth of formal equality can disguise substantive inequality, De Tocqueville said. In a quotocracy, the fact that select individuals from some communities are empowered is considered as empowering the community.

This mystification is justified as compensation for democracy’s mystification. Since, in a democracy, there is a gap between formal and substantive equality, in a quotocracy elites can be empowered within communities with impunity and it is called 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.

What if some states exceed 50pc, 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 is a tactic for injustice.

Democracy thrives on historical traditions associated with its founding. A quotocracy thrives on historical amnesia.

The British used two tactics: divide and rule, and people in their colonies were infants because they could not think outside of caste and community, they said. They were incapable of self-government.

Quotocracy likes dividing and ruling, as well. People are incapable of self-government it also thinks. Identities need to be boxed.

The founding fathers worked hard to combat ascriptive identities. They rejected two-nation theories, separate electorates, narcissism of partial groups, communal representation, and 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 are 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. It needs a new political science to understand it. Prepare for the Age of Quotocracy.


By Pratap Bhanu Metha (PhD), the president of the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank based in Delhi, India


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