As the government tabled in the Rajya Sabha a bill to provide for reservations in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs today, Elders belonging to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party came to blows. (Watch)
The BSP supports the quota; the SP is against it.
SP Rajya Sabha member Naresh Aggarwal and BSP's Avtar Singh were seen pushing each other and exchanging blows even as Minister of State in the PM's Office V Narayanasamy quickly tabled the Bill between adjournments forced by a BJP that is refusing to let the House run to allow the quota bill to be passed. The BJP accuses the government of using this bill, which all parties save the SP largely support, to divert attention from its demand that the Prime Minister resign on the coal allocation issue.
Speaking to NDTV, Mr Narayansamy said, "It is unfortunate that the Samajwadi Party reacted like this .I was aware that they would come near me and hence did not keep a paper in my hand,"
But am unapologetic SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said outside Parliament, "My party will continue to oppose the Bill. It's is unconstitutional. We will hold public protests. The Bill will disturb seniority in jobs. It is a joke."
BSP's Mayawati said it was "unfortunate" that the BJP did not relent. "With the row over coal, it does not look like there is a possibility of voting over the constitutional amendment. We spoke to the BJP leaders yesterday. We are happy that this was introduced in the Rajya Sabha today. But it's unfortunate that the BJP has not relented and stuck to its stand on coal," she said.
The BJP has stalled Parliament for 10 days now over the coal allocation issue. Top party leaders met for over three hours last night to discuss strategy after the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal on Tuesday that seeks to amend four key articles of the Constitution to make reservation in promotions possible. They carried to the meeting several appeals - from the Congress-led government to help pass the bill, a similar appeal from BSP leader Mayawati and one from the Samajwadi Party to oppose it. They emerged to accuse the government of trying to use the quota bill to scuttle the corruption debate. They also pointed out that copies of the bill had not even reached them yet. The BJP is clear that the coal issue must be addressed first.
The BJP has also said that the government is using the quota bill to divide the opposition. And the signs of this divide are already visible with two key components of the BJP-led NDA taking opposing stands on the issue - while the Shiv Sena has said it will "not let the bill be passed at any cost", the JDU has said it will support the bill in full strength.
The BJP's dilemma is that it cannot be seen as anti-Dalit by stalling the passage of this reservation bill. It has said that it wants the Bill, if tabled, to be first sent for review by a standing committee of Parliament. The government, eager to push it through, has said there is no need to send it to the parliamentary committee. The BJP said yesterday that it "backs social justice" and so will back constitutionally tenable laws.
The Left parties say much the same - they want quota in promotions but would like the Bill to be reviewed by the standing committee. And they too point out that they are yet to see the Bill. "Given the current situation, am doubtful if this Bill would be passed. But we support the Bill and we want reservations for SC/STs," said CPI's D Raja.
Amending the Constitution became necessary after the Supreme Court struck down in April this year, a decision made by Mayawati when she was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, to provide reservation for SC/STs in promotion to higher posts in government departments. At an all-party meeting in August, most political formations, save the Samajwadi Party, supported quota in reservations. But Attorney General GE Vahanvati has warned the government that any law on the reservations issue should be framed with extreme caution because it is likely to be legally challenged.
The Prime Minister has said that a legally sustainable solution will be found. But before it faces up to legal challenges, the government has a task ensuring Parliament passes the Bill given the way it has functioned for much of the Monsoon Session. The Bill will need the support of a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament as it seeks to amend the Constitution - when the Bill is put to vote, two-thirds of the total House strength has to be present and at least half of those present have to vote in its favour for the Bill to get through. Apart from the vote, the House has to be in order. The BJP as yet has seemed in no mood to allow the House to be in order.
Also, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, which provides outside support to the UPA government and has bailed it out of sticky positions many times, has said it will oppose it this once. The SP was the lone dissenter at the all-party meeting in August. The SP wants all quota benefits to be extended to other backward classes (OBCs). "This stand of the cabinet is wrong. The Samajwadi Party is against this and we will continue to protest," senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav said yesterday. Mr Yadav approached the BJP for its support against the Bill, but sources said he got no assurance from Arun Jaitley.
Mayawati, who heads the Bahujan Samaj Party, is now making focused efforts to get political parties to cooperate and allow a discussion and vote on the Bill. She too met BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley yesterday to seek their support - that brought about the BJP core group meeting at LK Advani's residence on Tuesday evening.
When it quashed the Mayawati decision, the Supreme Court had questioned this criterion for promotion, saying the government needed to quantify that Dalits and backwards were insufficiently represented in the public services and therefore needed this quota. The court had said that three aspects needed to be looked into for reservations in promotions: backwardness, representation and overall administrative efficiency.
Though the amendments are aimed at legally combating any challenge, the Bill might still run into rough weather in the courts. Constitutional expert PP Rao said that if the government brings in amendment without "curing the defects" pointed out by the Supreme Court then it may not stand legal scrutiny.