Criticisms of preferential policies such as positive action are widespread. Much of this criticism, however, stems from a
confusion about why preferential policies can be justifiable in principle, whatever their consequences in practice.
This paper carefully distinguishes three different justifications for preferential policies, based both on theoretical disputes about the meaning of justice and on the words and actions of political actors in India. These are termed communitarian, compensatory and democratic-distributive, and in discussing how each approach has been canvassed and implemented in India, comparisons are made with other societieis in which preferential policies have either operated or been proposed.
The abstractions of this somewhat technical section give way to a discussion that links up with recent developments in the West, suggesting that those concerned with widespread disadvantage among certain communities can benefit from examining how Indian thinkers and policymakers have attempted to deal with the issue of preferential treatment.
Even those who find the idea of preferential policies objectionable might be interested to learn, or rediscover, how democratic-distributive arguments have been employed to justify quotas and positive action in the world's largest and perhaps most diverse democracy. Achieving equal participation is a key aim of any democratic society, and preferential policies are one possible way of achieving that goal.