Rise of the merit nation


India is shining because of its focus on ability, not patronage


I have just found an excellent role model for anyone interested in survival without self-inflicted wounds: the gentleman who drove me from Bangalore airport to the city hotel over two difficult hours. He was gentle. He was patient. He did not get exasperated when an auto-rickshaw wedged in his way, further delaying a snail’s movement towards an uncooperative traffic light. He knew the road map. Progress would be splendid along the highway, and then the crawl begins. He did not encourage false optimism.

He was a professional, a driver. He treated work with diligence and dignity. He went home, about 20 miles outside the city, to his family on Saturdays, his single weekly holiday, and took cakes or some other food for his two sons. The elder, now nine, had become resentful about his father’s absence, but realised that his father was away because he was working for his children. Like all patient men, my driver was part-time philosopher when offering advice. He warned me that traffic would be far worse if I attempted to venture out in the evening. Everyone was going to parties on Friday evening. India had changed, he said. IT had changed India.

He was right in the limited as well as larger sense. Information Technology is both symbol and reality of a new, youth-driven life-culture, the triumph of professionalism over traditional influencers like ancestry, family, caste or faith. The new heroes are those who deliver, and if, as individuals, they have triumphed over difficult circumstance then the pedestal for their reputations is even higher. India has become a land seething with aspiration. The tension now lies in the distance between ambition and opportunity.

The evidence is everywhere. The catapult industry of the last five years has been sport. A brilliant threesome marriage of entrepreneurial ability, popular hunger for healthy entertainment, and the exploding horizon of communications technology has begun to lift even the “beemaru”, or financially beleaguered, games into the orbit of spectator-driven profitability. So where are the big beneficiaries, the players, coming from?

That morning’s newspapers had printed names of 30 probables for the Indian World Cup cricket team. Once upon a time — it all seems so remote, one is literally forced to use that quaint phrase from fairytales — that list would be scrutinised to check whether every geographical zone had been represented, whether X or Y from some highly “connected” lobby had retained his place, and whether a Muslim had been chosen or shunted out because of positive or negative prejudice.

The good news today is not only that Parvez Rasool, a fine player from Jammu and Kashmir, is on the list of 30, but that he could be dropped when the group is pared to 15. He is a probable not because he is a Kashmiri, or a Muslim, but because he is good; and if his talents do not make the cut for the next grade, then so be it. Parvez is in the team because of ability, not patronage. This is wonderful. This is something to be proud of. Kuldeep Yadav, just 19, is in because he bowls an exciting chinaman, not because any commission has reserved a place for him. I do not know what caste Virat Kohli belongs to, and no one cares. Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have not been dropped because they come from minority communities, but because they have crossed their sell-by date after outstanding career achievements.

The success stories of cinema, and its upwardly mobile first cousin television soap, are shaped by talent and market acceptability. Stars succeed because they satiate the appetite for romance or tears or laughter or justice and not because they were born in this home or that faith. The Indian audience is many steps ahead, in this respect, of Indian lawmakers and politicians. There is at least one politician, still in the limelight — although that light has become a lamp — who used to believe that he could push his son into the Indian cricket team by virtue of his political clout. He remains a ranking celebrity of cloud-cuckoo land.

India has become a merit nation. It is leaving dynasty and genetic inheritance behind. Entitlement has not fully disappeared from public and professional life, but it is in the emergency ward of an old-age hospital. This is the true democratic dividend of a nation which seeks to abandon a past full of inequality and denial.

This is why the gentleman who drove a car in Bangalore works so hard; not just to add some masala to his dosa, but to ensure that his sons enter the list of probables in 2025. They do not have to be on a cricket list. If they are on the interview list of an IT company, India will have found its destiny.


  1. The article is true, I have lived all my life in India and I can say India has its share of mediocrity but in Bangalore it is all about meritocracy and open culture, where there is culture in Bangalore to invite best talent to work in Bangalore IT company and it is why it is rich in talent and resource and all top jobs comes to Bangalore, but one work of caution it is no Singapore. In Singapore, they have meritocracy as a state system which was USA case till late 80's.

    Singapore Reward for Work; Work for Reward

    To maintain efficiency and progress, corruption and nepotism must be avoided at all costs. People should be rewarded based on what they do, not who they are. The system of meritocracy in Singapore ensures that the best and brightest, regardless of race, religion and socio-economic background, are encouraged to develop to their fullest potential. Everyone has access to education, which equips them with skills and knowledge to earn a better living.

    Singapore believes that welfarism is not viable as it breeds dependency on the government. It has adopted a policy of co-payment to encourage people to assume personal responsibility for their own welfare, though the government does provide subsidies in vital areas like housing, health and education.
    A Stake For Everyone, Opportunities For All

    All societies seek to create a stake for their citizens but in Singapore's case, it is all the more important because of our origins as an immigrant society. Singapore can only survive if every Singaporean sees their future and that of their fellow countrymen as intertwined. Giving a stake to everyone, not just citizens but all who have a role to play in Singapore's future will help towards this end.

    The Government will create opportunities for Singaporeans, regardless of their abilities, to realise their full potential. It will not only develop Singapore as a land of opportunity, but also diverse opportunities. It will create more avenues for Singaporeans to pursue their interests in fields that contribute to Singapore's development as a vibrant and balanced society e.g. sports, arts and culture. However, while ensuring ample opportunities for everyone, the Government cannot, nor should it guarantee equal outcomes.

  2. If Pakistan wants to unite its nation and curtail to certain extent dynasty rule, end race difference, culture differences, language difference then only meritocracy can do that. Meritocracy is also mentioned in holy book that a king with best ability and justice system should rule the public. No county in entire world can be a better model than Singapore. It is the ultimate nation or city state with exemplary administration. This is one nation that has shown to the world with proper discipline you can achieve the best.All credit goes to Lee Kuan Yew, their iconic PM. Very few leaders in the world can match this this giant of legend.

  3. Meritocracy can avoid marginalizing people since the very idea of an equal society where everyone needs to work hard to achieve success will ensure free and fair outcome in the society. It has multiplier effect in other domains of the society.

    America, Singapore, Bangalore to certain extent has been successful only with meritocracy means you create best nation, party, organization, with best people at best place.. means best people for best jobs. Lee Kuan Yew said to Singapore society to allow most educated and talented to acquire best jobs, and we must pass our genes to future generation.

    No democracy, no dictatorship or communist government can bring prosperity. It is the discipline of a nation that determine its people destiny

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