New Delhi: Rattled by the recent protests over Dalit atrocities Bill and attempting to redeem itself from some voices of dissent within, the Modi government has brought back to table the long pending law which aims to provide reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in government job promotions.
Politically, the government’s move will not only test the fast crystalizing Backward-Dalit coalition against the BJP in the Hindi heartland but also the SP-BSP tie-up. Attempts to pass the pending 117th Constitution Amendment Bill are also aimed to temper Dalit sentiments in the face of concerns within the community over the pullback of safeguards provided to them by the Constitution.
The government’s intent over the issue was articulated earlier this week by NDA ally and Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan. The bill (the 117th Constitution Amendment Bill) was brought to Parliament in 2012 by the UPA government.
The Bill aims to over-ride the Supreme Court order of the same year, which struck down the Uttar Pradesh government’s rules on reservations in promotions. The court felt that the rules had fallen foul of the apex court order in the famous 2006 Nagaraj Case, where the Supreme Court while upholding the validity of quotas in promotion laid down certain guidelines.
When UPA brought the 117th Constitution Amendment Bill to the Rajya Sabha in 2012, it was met with a lot of resistance. The opposition from within the UPA was muted. It was, however, left to the Samajwadi Party and its leaders to come out in open opposition to the law.
The SP, which had just months back inflicted a resounding defeat to the BSP in the state assembly polls, had no political compulsions to support the Bill. The party, in its opposition, was not only underscoring the Dalit-Backward fault line (since only SC/ST would stand to benefit from the law), it was also reaching out to the upper caste constituency of UP.
In the altered political paradigm in UP, as SP-BSP work to forge a new social coalition, the Bill will put to test recent efforts by the opposition to forge an umbrella alliance against the BJP in 2019.
So violently divergent are the two parties on this issue that according to media reports, the then SP leader Naresh Agarwal and BSP leader from Punjab Avtar Singh got into a scuffle when the quota bill was tabled in Parliament.
Speaking in Parliament then SP supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav called the Bill “unconstitutional” and said his party would “go to the people” against it.
Threatening the Congress, which was in power and was responsible for introducing the bill, Yadav said, “The Congress Party will have to face the consequences. This is a promotion to make a junior, a senior and vice versa. They (the government) are making a mockery of rules. Are they running the government or cracking a joke? Is it constitutional to make a junior, a senior and a senior, a junior?”
In fact, just before the Bill was introduced in Parliament, senior SP leader Jaya Bachchan called it “ridiculous”.
"This is absolutely wrong and should not be done. It is absolutely ridiculous. People have been waiting for 30 years for getting promoted and working hard for it, what will happen to them,” said Bachchan.
When the Bill was not passed, Mayawati, another key UPA ally also trained her guns at Congress and BJP.
“The Congress delayed the Bill and did not introduce it in the last session as they wanted their candidate to win the Presidential elections. Now, the BJP is not cooperating as they feel that by cornering the UPA government they can win the elections in 2014. I had appealed to the BJP to give importance to the Quota Promotion Bill instead of Coalgate but they are being stubborn.”
Then, Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that the Bill was not the call of the hour. “I urge Ms Mayawati to stand with us on the issue of corruption. There are so many cases of corruption. Please stand with us on the issue of corruption. Social justice is an ongoing battle that has been going on and must go on,” he said.
Despite overt opposition from the SP, the Bill was finally passed in the Upper House. However, it met with stiffer resistance in the Lower House from many parties including the BJP.
Ahead of it being taken up by the Lok Sabha, News18 had reported that senior leaders of BJP like Murli Manohar Joshi had in a Parliamentary meeting argued for the party to vote against the Bill to avoid “loss of support amidst the upper caste”.
Later, talking to the press, Ravi Shankar Prasad admitted that there were differences within his party over the reservation in promotion Bill.
“On the issue of reservation, yes, there were discussions. But the leaders have explained that the entire Constitutional amendment has been changed substantially because of the intervention of BJP,” Prasad told reporters in December 2012.
The political move to bring the Bill, which is still present with the Rajya Sabha, not only test the resilience of SP-BSP alliance in UP. Its impact and reaction from BJP’s core constituency would also be closely watched.