The proposed law to provide for 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category, introduced and passed by both houses of parliament within two days, is a record of sorts in recent times, when parliament has been logjammed for days by protesting opposition parties. While many of the parties, including the Congress, questioned the government's haste in introducing and clearing the bill, they found their hands forced.
Most of the opposition parties, as Union minister Arun Jaitley had pointed out during the debate in Lok Sabha, have supported quota on basis of income at some point. The Congress-led UPA government in 2013 had even come up with the idea which the NDA government implemented. Where they differed was in the mode of the implementation. Others raised the question of rights of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, contending that they deserved a share of reservations bigger than 50 per cent.
The matter brought out the many rifts among the opposition parties, which are trying to paper over their differences to present a united front against the BJP ahead of the coming national elections.
The Congress and several other parties, including Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Left parties and Tamil Nadu's opposition DMK pointed out that the bill required intense scrutiny, especially as it exceeds the 50 per cent cap on quota prescribed by the Supreme Court and could be subjected to questioning.
Even the Trinamool Congress, which extended cautious support to the bill, expressed reservations. Party leader Derek O Brien said, "This bill is an acknowledgement of guilt about not creating enough jobs... It also redefines India's poverty line," he added.
The parties wanted a select committee to examine the bill - a demand that was shot down during voting.
Other parties flagged the interest of the support base. Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal argued that if 10 per cent quota is being set aside for the 15 per cent upper castes, there should be 90 per cent reservation for the remaining 85 per cent population.
Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, the two Uttar Pradesh leaders whose supporters comprise largely of Dalits and Other Backward Classes, also demanded a bigger share of the pie for these communities. But neither was read to pull off support to the bill for fear of upsetting the rest of the electorate, or support a scrutiny which would have put the bill on ice.
Telangana's ruling party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, called for a 12 per cent reservation for backward Muslims and Union minister Ram Das Athwale, the chief of the Republican Party of India said the government should increase the 27 per cent quota for the Other Backward Castes by at least 10 per cent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted the bill does not "steal" from the Dalits and Backward castes.
"I used to say earlier that going above 50 per cent reservation was simply not possible without a constitutional amendment. Anyone who promised anything else was lying or would steal from the Dalits , SC and ST reservations. I am very happy that I have managed to do this without stealing from the Dalits or Adivasis," he said.
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