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BJP woos the economically weaker sections with quota reservations

Saturday, January 12, 2019
By Prakash Bal Joshi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government has finally taken a step forward to woo economically weaker sections of upper castes with a promise to provide 10 per cent reservations in jobs and educational institutions.

There is no doubt that this a step towards catering to a specific voter who have been agitating against reservations provided in the Constitution on the basis of backward castes and later added with other backward castes on the basis of Mandal Commission.

Despite reservations and opposition from certain sections of the society, the Parliament passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the economically weaker sections in the general category.

Aimed at garnering political mileage
This all-inclusive step will ensure that economically backward sections of the society irrespective of caste and religion will be able to avail this reservation facilities. Though there is lot of debate over whether with this amendment, the governments can now cross the limit of 50 per cent or it will get stuck in legal mess, the government has managed to pass the bill with a short notice in the Lok Sabha as well as in the Rajya Sabha without wasting time as it is clearly aimed to get political mileage during the coming general elections few months away.

The Bill was introduced by Union Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot and passed with 165 votes in favour while seven voted against it. In Lok Sabha it was passed with 323 votes in favour and just three against it, clearly showing that politically no major political party was opposed to the idea though they expressed their reservations and concern over the passage of the bill.

DMK tried to defer it as its leader Kanimozhi demanded that the bill should be sent to the select committee of both the houses. Her move was defeated as she failed to get required number of supporters for the move.

This is not for the first time such move has been made to provide some support to economically backward people irrespective of their caste and religion. The Congress under then prime minister P V Narsimha Rao had taken a step in the same direction but it was turned down by the Supreme Court. However, while moving the bill, the concerned minister has promised that there would be no such issue as they have taken all precautions and amended the relevant articles of the Constitution to avoid such difficulties in implementing the proposal.

The government tried to explain its position while moving the bill saying that the Constitution does not allow reservation on economic basis and due to that poor people in general category miss out on opportunities. The minister explained technicalities of the bill with a hope that it will withstand legal scrutiny by the courts. Senior Congress MP Anand Sharma made it clear that the party was not opposing the move but launched an attack on the ruling BJP saying that the party had forgotten about the proposal and it is bringing it now to garner votes in the coming general elections.

It is obvious that the ruling party thought of bringing the bill with such alacrity keeping in mind the coming general elections. The defeat in the just-held elections to the state assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have pushed the government to take up the bill and ensure its easy passage in both the houses.

Replying to opposition criticism that the move was made in view of coming general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pointed out that every now and then there is some kind of elections being held in some corner of the country. He defended his move to hold the Lok Sabha elections along with all state legislative assemblies calling it One India One Election which the opposition is deadly against. They feel that with One India One Election, it will be a step towards presidential type of election where the prime minister will be pitted against opposition candidate for the post.

The government has also given freedom to the state governments to decide the income limit to make the reservation to weaker sections of the society. It has suggested Rs 8 lakh per annual income as the cut off line which can be lowered depending on the situation in respective states. The Aam Adami Party (AAP) boycotted the voting saying that the weaker section of upper caste will get 10 per cent reservations while others with more income will get 40 per cent seats available.

The opposition took differing positions While Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal supported the bill Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party refused to support the demand for referring the bill to the Select Parliament Committee. The Congress which supported the demand initially, later decided to wait and watch the situation.

The proposed reservation will provide benefit to large sections of economically weaker portion of upper castes including Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Bhumihars and others. In Maharashtra, Marathas have already got included into the OBC category. The economically weaker Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religion also get benefits.  Replying to criticism by few opposition members, the Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad assured that 10 per cent quota in jobs and education for the economically weaker sections in the general category will not affect the Supreme Court's ruling of 50 per cent cap on reservation for backward classes (BCs).

Constitutional powers
He asserted that "both Houses of the Parliament have the right to create law. Under Article 368 of the Constitution, the Parliament may exercise its constituent powers to amend, make addition and variation and repeal any provision of the Constitution. The only condition is that it cannot change the basic structure of the Constitution."

The question now being asked is how much this step will politically benefit the BJP-led NDA in coming elections. Will it tilt the scale in its favour or will it be just like any other moves by the ruling party to win over voters? We can see that the BJP is cautious and little worried not merely over the loss of three states from Hindi heartland, but its aftermath, increased attack by the Congress and its political allies on the ruling party and their main campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How, the smaller players of the NDA using this discomfiture to secure more seats while few are on the verge of separating.

The reservation for weaker sections of general category is considered as a direct step by prime minister to reach out to the people directly rather than through some regional outfits. If he succeeds generating favourable atmosphere through such welfare plans and people get benefits then it will click. However, there are many who doubt its usefulness in crucial battle. The step may or may not benefit the BJP, but no one is certain.

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who had done about turn in Shah Banu case had not been able to get electoral support and lost power. V P Singh after Mandal Commission had lost power once BJP withdrew its support after L K Advani was arrested. There is no reason why OBCs turn their back just because the government has given reservations to economically weaker sections from general category as the proposal does not anyway affect the OBC, Backward castes and schedule tribes’ reservations. No wonder the BJP thinks that the move will benefit it electorally.

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