Even as the coal blocks controversy (Coalgate) refuses to die out, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the draft for a Constitutional amendment bill to give reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Cabinet, which usually meets on Thursdays, met on Tuesday in Parliament House and cleared the draft. It is indicative of the government’s sense of urgency and purpose. Also, while the monsoon session of Parliament has virtually been washed out (it will formally close on Friday), the government obviously wants to be seen as being sincere in promoting the cause of Dalits and tribals. It is likely that the Constitutional Amendment Bill for amending the relevant provisions in Article 16 for the fifth time will be introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday amid protests by the BJP on Coalgate.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) was quick to blast the UPA government for this move. Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav termed it as a diversionary tactic by the government when it was facing political heat on Coalgate. “The Cabinet decision in this regard is wrong. This is a ploy by the government to divert attention from the coal scam. Their idea is to fool the people”, he said. The SP has been consistently opposed to it.
The Samajwadi Party was the only one to oppose the idea at an all-party meet convened by the Prime Minister last month on the subject. It maintains that if quotas were to be given to Dalits and tribals in promotion, why not to OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and Muslims, the two social and religious communities that form the base of SP’s strength. Tuesday’s Cabinet decision may sour SP’s relations with the Congress since it reveals a tilt towards its rival, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.
The Cabinet stamp over quotas in promotions made Bahujan Samaj Party leaders (BSP) jubilant. Party chief Mayawati claimed exclusive credit and went on an overdrive to garner support. She met two top BJP leaders, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, in Parliament House, urging them to put the brakes on their Coalgate protests to allow the quota bill to be passed.
Given the social and political sensitivity on the quota issue, BJP leaders remained guarded in their response. They told Mayawati that they would speak to other leaders in the party and then formulate their response. The BJP does not want to dilute its agenda on Coalgate and continue targeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. At the same time it does not want to do or say anything that might be called an anti-Dalit or anti-tribal move.
The BSP chief was not satisfied yet. She wanted the bill to somehow be passed in the remaining three days of this session. She put the onus on the UPA government. If they don’t do it then it would be clear that Congress was “Nagnath” and BJP was “Sanpnath” (the two synonyms for snake). Once she achieved the goal of reservation in promotions for SC/STs, she said she would not mind the quota to be extended to Other Backward Castes, religious minorities and economically weaker sections among the Upper Castes.
It’s a politically tricky issue that most mainstream political parties want to avoid. But dictated by the compulsions of vote-bank politics, and with assembly elections due in seven important states over the next 12 months, senior leaders of these political parties either remain silent or support the quota proposal.
A senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity, said the proposal for this bill must not be supported. Quota in promotion was not justified. More so because its long-term implications are unhealthy both for administration and governance. But that certainly could not be their public view, he said.
Mayawati has been at the forefront asking for a constitutional amendment. The problem arose after the Supreme Court, on 27 April, in a case involving the UP Power Corporation Ltd, struck down a provision for reservation in promotions to SCs and STs in UP.
The Prime Minister made his intentions clear in last month’s all-party meet convened to discuss the issue. He had asked the parties to provide “valuable suggestions so that a legally sustainable solution may be arrived at”.