Quota bill, Mulayam's case: With UPA, it's all up for sale

It's the season of festivity, and that time of the year when retailers offer you mega deals on everything under the sun. The Congress-led UPA appears to have entered into the spirit of things, and is offering spectacular deals on everything to its political allies.

The bill to provide for reservations in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which is expected to be passed in Parliament on Monday, is the UPA government's manifest political reward to the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati in return for its support last week to the government on the FDI-in-retail bill in the Rajya Sabha. It is the latest, most brazen instance of political deal-making with little or no consideration of larger national interests.

Simultaneously, the UPA government has the Samajwadi Party too on leash, with the lever of the CBI investigation into the disproportionate assets case, which the Supreme Court revived on Thursday. The development represents something of a political setback for Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who only last week bailed out the government in the Lok Sabha by walking out during the vote on the FDI-in-retail proposal even though, he claimed, his party was opposed to FDI in retail. Even if the Supreme Court is monitoring it, the case is only as good as the prosecution - in this case, the CBI - wants it to be. And given the history of the abuse of the CBI for political ends, Mulayam Singh Yadav is today even more at the mercy of the Congress.

For Mayawati, one good turn deserves another. PTI

During the vote on the FDI-in-retail proposal, Mayawati was all righteous indignation when BJP''s Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj suggested that the Samajwadi Party's and the Bahujan Samaj Party's decision to walk out from the Lok Sabha (which allowed the government to survive the vote) was motivated by the fear of CBI investigation into the corruption cases against Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. But the record of the blatant use of the CBI by successive governments tells a rather different story - in which Mayawati herself has benefited in the past.

Two former CBI directors - US Misra and Joginder Singh - appeared on NDTV (watch the video here) on Thursday night and narrated their experience of having come under political pressure to ease up on cases involving political bigwigs. Misra, who served as CBI director between 2003 and 2005 (under the NDA and the UPA governments), and investigated the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati, acknowledged that political pressure was a very real consideration. "Sometimes, when we investigate cases against prominent political leaders, some influence somewhere...  comes... to keep it pending for some time or to give a progress report this way or that way," he said.

Joginder Singh, who served as CBI director during 1996-97, was even more explicit, and spoke candidly about a "confrontation" he had with the then Prime Minister. While he was investigating the fodder scam case against Lalu Prasad Yadav, he said, the Prime Minister had told him to go easy on the case. "Thoda sa isko ahista kar lo." To which, Joginder Singh said, he had responded by saying that he needed the government's order in writing.

The then Prime Minister's responded by pulling rank -  "You know I am the Prime Minister, don't you?" - and promptly had Joginder Singh transferred (within just 11 months of his taking office).

And although Joginder Singh did not mention the then Prime Minister's name, it is widely know that it was IK Gujral, who was universally remembered as a "gentleman" in politics when he passed away last fortnight.

The two former CBI directors' testimony only validates the long-held suspicions that the Congress is adroitly playing on the political vulnerabilities of  both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati (and, on another front, of Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh) to ensure its survival in office. And alongside all the coercion, there are also political blandishments -  of the sorts that Mayawati has been offered with the quotas-in-promotion bill.

The bill to provide for reservations in promotions for Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes is ruinous. In his time, Jawaharlal Nehru was appalled by the suggestion when it was made.  “It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based on communal or caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster,” he had then warned, with amazing prescience.

The Constitutional amendment provision to strike down all the legal challenges in implementing and institutionalising the quotas-in-promotion enterprise violates the spirit – and letter – of what everybody from BR Ambedkar and Nehru downward wanted to see: the erosion of divisions along caste lines, and the winding down, over time, of all reservations.

The evolution of the reservation policy over the 65 years since independence and the manner in which the abuse of the original intent has played out over the decades portends ill for the country. From being a mere enabling provision to confer a discretionary power on the State as a temporary expedient to uplift a small section of the socially oppressed, it has become an instrument that advances competitive casteism and institutionalises caste-based divisions, with vast numbers clamouring to claim reservations as their birthright.

What started off as a temporary provision for just Scheduled Castes has over time extended to cover Other Backward Classes, and is being sought to be extended to religions minorities as well. And successive governments have over the years been pushing to extend the provision to promotions as well. The proposed Constitutional amendment will do it for Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but you can be sure – given the precedent – that the facility will be extended to OBCs as well.

As Firstpost noted (here), the provision of quotas in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes opens the floodgates to a new round of competitive casteism, if not open 'caste wars'. And as it did during the post-Mandal phase in the early 1990s, such a political churn based entirely on caste-based identity, has serious negative consequences for India's polity, economy and  society.

For the Congress, however, it appears that those things matter little so long as its political need - of  muddying the political waters so thoroughly that no one remembers its abysmal record of governance of the past three years - is met.

Limb by limb,  every bit of India is up for sale, with the Congress degrading virtually every pillar of the state - all for the political expedient of hopping by on political crutches until the next election.

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