Eyes on polls, BJP plays the upper-caste quota card

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 07, 2019 Published on January 07, 2019

Representational image only.

10 per cent reservation to help ‘economically backward’ sections land jobs, pursue studies

In its biggest political manoeuvre, a sort of Mandal Part II before the general elections, the ruling BJP has sought to change the concept of affirmative action to include “economically backward” among the forward castes as a criterion for reservation in government and private institutions.

For the purpose, the government will introduce in Parliament on the last day of the winter session a Constitutional amendment to provide for 10 per cent reservation to forward castes in jobs and educational institutions as a fundamental right which will also scrap the 50 per cent cap on reservations imposed by the Supreme Court.

A game-changer

This is the biggest move since VP Singh’s push for reservation for OBCs in the early 1990s that altered the judicial interpretation of the fundamental right to equality. “This is the first Constitutional recognition of deprivation and poverty among the upper castes,” said a top BJP source, terming it as a “game-changer” before the elections. In one stroke, it appeases the party’s upper caste support base while also providing a suitable remedy for farming communities such as Jats, Gujjars, Marathas, Kapus and Patidars who have been agitating for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.

Top government sources told BusinessLine that the Constitutional Amendment to be brought on Tuesday seeks to insert one clause each in Article 15 and Article 16. The amendment to Article 15 will insert Clause 6 providing for 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections among the forward castes in government as well as private, aided and unaided educational institutions.

Similarly, the amendment to Article 16 will include Clause 6 to provide for reservation in jobs and appointments for economically weaker sections among the forward castes by adding 10 per cent further quota to what is already available under the law.

Those who are eligible for reservation under the new category formulated by the BJP-led government include persons whose annual income is less than ₹8 lakh and own less than five acres of land.

The BJP is bursting with confidence with the move, finalised in a special meeting of the Union Cabinet in Parliament precincts on Monday. After the debacle in the recent Assembly elections, the ruling party is certain to change the national discourse with this move. “I am waiting to see whether Rahul Gandhi opposes this amendment,” said a senior BJP leader, seemingly assured of the political dividends the move will help reap.

The Congress, in the meantime, dubbed it as a “political gimmick” with party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi saying, “They waited for four years and eight months to come up with this before the elections to confuse the voters.”

Citizenship Amendment Bill

The government will also introduce for passage in the Lok Sabha the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which, is against the spirit of the Assam Accord, provides for grant of citizenship to all non-Muslims and non-Bengali speaking persons of Pakistan and Bangladesh besides Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

BJP’s regional ally, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), exited the NDA as soon as reports of the Bill being brought came in. “We made all efforts to convince the BJP about the negative impact of this Bill and the stand of the people of Assam. But the BJP has decided to go ahead, leaving us with no option but to quit the alliance,” said AGP President Atul Bora after meeting Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Published on January 07, 2019
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