Mark Shuttleworth might have privately breached the atmosphere with Russian cosmonauts, but India has gone to the moon. The lunar landing is just one more indication that the world’s largest democratic republic is rising. This should give citizens in submerging markets like South Africa’s pause for thought.

In purchasing power parity India is the world’s third biggest economy (China is number one). In 2022 India had the second fastest growth of any major economy (Saudi Arabia came first due the energy price spike). India will be the world’s fastest growing major economy again in 2023, a position in which it has been dominant since 2015. India also just became the most populous country in the world.

These are reasons to regard India seriously, even admiringly, which seldom happens in South Africa’s commentariat.

India did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the UN. Its troops have killed and been killed in skirmishes with China on a disputed border. Its government promotes Hindutva, decolonisation, and ‘self-reliance‘. It also had an official day of mourning for the death of Queen Elizabeth. It is constitutionally ‘socialist’. For about two decades it has cut taxes and regulations to promote hardcore capitalism. There is plenty, in short, for the non-Indian left and right, ‘West’ and ‘South’, secularists, globalists, and more to criticise.

Far from perfect

India is far from a perfect model of success. According to a 2022 UN Poverty Index there were over 230 million people living in ‘acute multidimensional poverty’ in India. That is around 20% of the 1.2 billion poor tallied in developing economies around the world: by far the most in any single country.

There are alarming cases of social identity violence in federal India too, from the 2002 Gujarat riots (over 1 000 people killed) to the 2020 Delhi riots (50-plus killed), the 2023 Manipur riots (180-plus killed), and the latest Haryana riots, to name a few.

The Indian republic is mind-bogglingly vast, a burden and a blessing. It has faults and demonstrable successes. More than any other nation, it now sings the great Song of democracy:

The past and present wilt – I have fill’d them, emptied them. / And proceed to fill my next fold of the future… / Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) / I concentrate toward them that are nigh…Who has done his day’s work?

Who indeed. India is unfolding the future and its work is far from done. So too the work of learning from it. It would be a shame to copy India’s flaws and counterproductive to ignore its triumphs. According to the same report noted above, ‘In India 415 million people exited poverty between 2005/06 and 2019/21.’

No one seriously interested in poverty relief can ignore India.

Indian race law

Race law and South Africa go together like curry and rice, but what about India? For simplicity I use the word ‘race’ in its old sense to mean any group defined by bloodline, meaning that ‘ethnicities’, ‘castes’, and ‘tribes’ are typically races too. In 1950, Indian race ‘quota reservations’ came into force to promote ‘Scheduled Castes and Tribes’ (SC-ST) which came to include less disadvantaged ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBC). That system is still in play 73 years later, with some changes.

In many ways, the Indian quota system for government jobs and university placements works like South Africa’s. There are, however, notable differences.

To start, Indian law calls quotas ‘quotas’. In 1992 the Indian Supreme Court (ISC)  ruled that SC-ST/OBC quotas could only cover 50% of public jobs and university placements, meaning half the positions are supposed to be evaluated on merit only, and most of these quotas apply to entry-level jobs like being a guard at a train station.

By comparison, practically every single public sector job in South Africa, top to bottom, is racially streamed. For a sense of how that works, read the Constitutional Court minority judgment here, which reveals a branch of government that refused to hire black, white, coloured, and Indian South Africans depending on position. Yes, every race gets cut at one point or another too. Not a single post was decided on merit only.

Creamy layer

Another difference, arguably bigger, is that in 1992 the ISC also ordered that the ‘creamy layer’ in disadvantaged groups must be excluded from the OBC quota benefits. This was later extended into SC-ST creamy exclusions as well.

The ‘creamy layer’ is occupied by individuals from historically ‘backwards’ races that are educationally and economically better off. How deep does the ‘creamy’ cut-off go? The current household limit is set at ₹800 000 per year, which is a little over R180 000. That means if both parents combined earn more than R180 000 per year, the children do not qualify as disadvantaged when they apply to university or for government jobs.

So rich people from ‘backwards’ races are excluded from quota benefits, but what about poor people from historically ‘forwards’ races? In 2019, elected Indian lawmakers amended their constitution so that ‘Economically Weaker Sections’ (EWS) would be included in the quota system, regardless of race. Children from poor families of all races are eligible for quotas at university and some government jobs too. The limit here is also set at R180 000.

In sum, there are quota opportunities for everyone below the R180 000 limit and no one above the R180 000 limit. In other words, Indian law takes ‘disadvantage’ to mean, well, disadvantage.

The quotas are still race-conscious because below the R180 000 limit there are more quotas for OCB and SC-ST groups than the rest. But there is no way for the quotas to make the rich richer in the way that Blatant Elite Enrichment in South Africa is called on to boost black billionaires and their children.

Recall President Ramaphosa’s claim that in this country ‘disadvantaged’ means ‘black’. It is no secret what is going on. Ramaphosa claims that every single black person, starting with himself, is ‘disadvantaged’, and that not one pale male, not even an orphan born long after Ramaphosa made his first billion (by extremely hard work, no doubt) is ‘disadvantaged’.

The majority of South African MPs act as if their own children count as ‘disadvantaged’ too, though they earn millions per year. Reuel Khoza complained that BEE had not produced enough black billionaires.

This is a world away from India. There, no one considers billionaires to be ‘disadvantaged’. Incidentally, with its lower taxes, relaxed regulations, and strengthening of property rights, India has booming billionaires, and jobs for hundreds of millions.

For a sense of scale back home, consider the latest General Household Survey (GHS) from Stats SA. There are at least 55 000 black students at schools with an annual tuition fee above R80 000, compared to 35 000 white students. BEE treats black people who went to private schools with 100% pass marks as equally ‘disadvantaged’ as children going to government schools with a de facto less-than-5% pass mark. (For context: according to the latest CRA data on the poorest 20% of schools, measuring to include dropouts, only 4% of matriculants scored 40% or more for maths in one form or another. Being stuck in one of those schools is a real disadvantage)”.

According to data from the GHS, an estimated 10% – 15% of black households would be excluded from BEE with an Indian-style cut-off. But in South Africa the ‘creamy layer’ is also the most ‘disadvantaged’ layer in the legal sense of being prepped to benefit from BEE.

This is not a secret. Tshediso Matona, the BEE Commissioner, openly calls for government subsidies for ‘disadvantaged’ people in Ramaphosa’s sense, singling out needy ‘black billionaires‘.

Another big difference is that the ANC-led government has repeatedly deemed it better to keep a post vacant for years, rather than hire someone of the ‘wrong’ race. Not so in India.

Indian Flaws

All South African legal experts are likely to feel that our system is superior at least on the following point. The 1992 ISC judgment stated that if more women in a race group were working than the state average, 25% to be precise, then this indicates ‘backwardness’. It was deemed backward for many women to work, and the after-effects are painfully clear. Like much of India’s race law, that would violate South Africa’s Constitution.

Moreover, its public service would be more efficient if the last vestiges of race quotas were dropped too.

Race law gets in the way of growth, but India’s has been sufficiently limited by its left wing to allow India’s private sector to boom. Jobs are growing, unemployment is dropping, and 415 million people were lifted, mostly by their own hard work, out of poverty.

In our Blatant Elite Enrichment system (whose beneficiaries include opportunists of all races) black unemployment has risen from below 25% in 2007 to above 35% today.

Have you ever heard a single affirmative action champion say, ‘we should take up the Indian system! Cut the Ramaphosas and the Lesufis out of BEE and deal the poor in! Set the limit at R15 000 per month.’?


We could do even better than that, to be sure. The IRR’s policy drops race entirely. But I point out the real-world Indian case for the same reason I recently pointed out those other Tigers, the Princeton progressives. Centre-left policies in other countries expose something peculiar about South Africa’s ‘left’. It stands by in support of the only ‘disadvantaged’ billionaires on the planet, abides by the creamiest system for the creamy, and the most anti-poor race law currently in operation anywhere between here and the moon.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend

Image by Kant Smith from Pixabay

Gabriel Crouse is a Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). He holds a degree in Philosophy from Princeton University.