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In Surprise Move Before Polls, Cabinet Approves 10% Reservation for Economically Weaker Upper Castes

A jubilant BJP and its allies hailed the move as "historic" and a "masterstroke", saying it is in sync with the Modi government's motto of 'sabka saath sabka vikas' (With all, development for all).

News18.com

Updated:January 8, 2019, 10:45 AM IST
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New Delhi: In a decision that may prove to be a gamechanger ahead of general elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10% reservation for economically backward upper castes in jobs and education, sources told News18.

The move is seen at placating the uppers castes, which make up for a staunch BJP support base, which has shown signs of a drift from the party.

The BJP termed the Narendra Modi government's move as "historic" while the Opposition questioned its timing with the Congress dubbing it an "election gimmick". However, opposition parties extended its support, reflecting the bill's political significance.

Sources say that Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot is likely to table in Parliament on Tuesday the bill, which for the first time provides for non-caste, non-religion based reservation.

The Rajya Sabha session too has been extended by a day.

As per initial information, those earning less than Rs 8 lakh per annum would be eligible for the proposed quota. PTI quoted its sources as saying that the quota would be over and above the existing 50% reservation cap imposed by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution, which has no mention of "economically weaker" people, will require an amendment to provide quota for them and at least two-thirds of the members in both the Houses will need to support the bill for it become a law. While the ruling NDA has required numbers in Lok Sabha, it will need support from the opposition benches in Rajya Sabha.

The bill seeks to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, introducing a clause for reservation for economically weaker sections in educational institutions and government jobs.

In its famous Indra Sawhney judgement, the Supreme Court had set a cap of 50 per cent cap on quotas. Government sources said the proposed constitutional amendment will pave the way for the additional quota.

Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

A jubilant BJP and its allies hailed the move as "historic" and a "masterstroke", saying it is in sync with the Modi government's motto of 'sabka saath sabka vikas' (With all, development for all).

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) also backed the measure, so did LJP's Ram Vilas Paswan, who called it historic

Asked whether the Congress will support the bill in Parliament, Congress spokesperson Randeep 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."

Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel said the move was the “last arrow in Modi’s quiver” before elections. "If this is just a ‘lollipop’ given to people, it will be wrong. Modi government will get a fitting reply if it is not implemented,” he said.

BJP MP Udit Raj, who has been vocal about his disappointment with the way the government has handled Dalit-centric issues, welcomed the step but also sounded a note of caution. "This will open a Pandora's Box… others will also demand reservation now. But we welcome the move. Parliament is very much in power to raise the ceiling (of reservation)," he told news agency ANI.

Delhi CM and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal dared the government to bring an amendment bill in Parliament, saying it would support it. Otherwise, this will be exposed as a mere political stunt, Kejriwal tweeted.

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