The Narendra Modi government's decision to give 10 per cent reservation to 'economically weaker' section among general category has attracted support from all political quarters even as the Opposition chose to paint it as a 'poll gimmick'. As the ruling party and its allies hailed the quota as historic, Congress and others said that it was party's way of fooling people weeks ahead of the polls.
In a major move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Union Cabinet Monday cleared a 10 per cent job and education quota for "economically weaker" sections, meeting a key demand of upper castes, a staunch BJP support base which has shown signs of a drift from the party.
The decision, passed by the Union Cabinet today, will require a Constitutional amendment before implementation to raise the maximum reservation bar from 50 to 60 per cent. To this effect, the government will table the bill in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the last day of the Winter Session. The government has also sought extension of the Rajya Sabha proceedings for a day to enable the passage of the bill.
Going by the reactions and statements of majority parties, the bill is likley to be passed before the end of the winter session in the lower and upper house without much obstacles
BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe described the reservation for upper castes as a step to widen the social justice net.
"Congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the historic decision of extending job quotas for economically weaker sections. A commendable step widening the social justice net and underscoring the inclusive approach of the government," he said.
Congress's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party has always backed every step for reservation and extended support to the economically poor sections of society irrespective of caste, community or creed.
"Without interfering with the constitutional mandate of reservation given to Dalits, adivasis and backward classes in any manner, we have always supported that those who are genuinely poor and who are not covered under these sections may also be given benefit of opportunities and reservation, both in education and employment," Surjewala said.
Asked whether the Congress will support a bill for the quota in Parliament, Surjewala said: "The son or daughter of a person who is economically poor should get their share in education and employment. We will support all steps for this."
He said the Congress will continue to support every step that provides opportunities as well as employment to the economically poor sections of society.
However, the Congress party said that that "without jobs", creation of reservation in employment may just prove to be "one more jumla" and that the decision was a proof of the BJP's "fear" of losing Lok Sabha polls.
"The truth is that after four years and eight months, the Modi government has suddenly woken up to the woes of economically poor facing imminent defeat in the 2019 elections and with 100 days to go for polls," Surjewala said.
"That itself raises certain questions on the intent, the bonafide and the honesty of the Modi government altogether," he said.
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijaywargiya said the decision has opened a new chapter in the history of social change.
Applauding Modi for the decision, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and BJP's ally RPI(Athawale) leader Ramdas Athawale described the decision as a masterstroke which could end the difference between the upper and lower caste.
"The issue of reservation caused a lot of conflict between Dalits and Savarnas. My demand has always been for 25 per cent reservation for the upper caste poor, 10 per cent is a good initiative. It is a masterstroke and Modi is a strong batsman," Athawale, who is a Dalit leader from Maharashtra, said.
BJP leader and Minister of State for Social Justice Vijay Sampla said the proposed law will help economically weaker upper caste sections whose annual earning is lower than Rs 8 lakhs and who possess less than 5 acres of land. It will not affect reservation of other categories, he added.
BJP ally Lok Janshakti Party Monday hailed as "historic" the government's decision, saying the poor from all castes and religions deserves support.
However, opposition parties in Bihar dismissed it as an electoral stunt.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she would be happy if people from weaker sections get job but questioned the NDA dispensation on constitutionally and legality of the quota.
AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal said his party will support the NDA government on the constitutional amendment bill for giving 10 per cent quota to "economically weaker" sections but termed the move as merely an "election stunt".
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also welcomed the move.
"The decision is nothing but an election jumla. We doubt the government's seriousness in the entire move," said Sudhakar Reddy, CPI general secretary.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi accused the government of "posturing" and misleading the country as it did not have the requisite majority to get a constitutional amendment passed in Parliament.
"The forward reservation is a gimmick to fool people. They are only misleading the nation," he said.
"Modi and the BJP clearly think that Indian public eats grass. Crass politicisation. Proof positive of fear and certainty losing 2019," he said.
(With inputs from agencies)
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