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‘Forwards quota’ bill moved and passed on same day in Lok Sabha – Times of India

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NEW DELHI: Moving at unprecedented speed, the Modi government brought the Constitutional amendment bill to Lok Sabha to carve a new quota for the economically weak, a day after it was cleared by the Cabinet and by late Tuesday evening the legislation was passed and is all set to get Rajya Sabha’s nod on Wednesday.

With parliamentary passage near certain, the legislation will face its real test in the courts where the law is likely to be tested. But even here, no major political party is likely to openly back a legal challenge to the law as was the case in the Aadhaar, Rafale and “CBI versus CBI” cases in Supreme Court.

Smooth passage of the bill was a major success for the Modi government that sees the legislation as an important part of its social and political strategy ahead of national elections as it seeks to signal to the forward castes that there interests are being looked at amid demands by various restive groups like Jats, Marathas, Gujjars and Patels for quota benefits.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the passage of the bill as a “landmark moment in nation’s history which sets into motion the process to achieve an effective measure that ensures justice for all sections of society”.

Political veterans failed to recollect when a bill moved from cabinent clearance to passage by Parliament in a matter of three days, as several parties, including Mandal-oriented ones, backed the quota despite criticising the government for an “opportunistic” decision just ahead of the Lok Sabha poll.

However, government sources said the swiftness was necessary to defang opposition’s cry that move to bring “unreserved” categories under the quota category was not just a gimmick or, as the opposition sneered, a mere jumla.

The overwhelming margin of 323-3 that marked the bill’s passage underlined the political compulsions at work as the opposition and government came together despite an intensely fractious session that has seen disruptions and wash outs as the two sides slugged it out over issues such the Rafale fighter deal: a happy augury for the bill’s prospects in Rajya Sabha.

Piloting the bill, social justice and empowernment minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said the quota did not distinguish on the basis of religion and all those outside the purview of existing quotas will be eligible subject to income and other exclusion criteria.

At the end of the debate, Gehlot said the recognition that the poor among those outside the current scheme of reservation need the benefits of quotas will go a long way in improving social amity. “This shows we are committed to ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ promised by PM Narendra Modi,” he said.

Concerns that the quota move may provoke a backward backlash ebbed as Dalit leader Mayawati, speaking in Lucknow, supported the decision even as she labelled the move a “political stunt”. In the House, Samajwadi Party leader Dharmendra Yadav supported the bill in a softening of the party’s initial criticism that there was a stronger case for the expansion of the OBC quota beyond 27%.

The government’s gamble of springing the bill at the end of the last full session of the 16th Lok Sabha seemed to have worked as the main opposition Congress declared its support on Monday itself. A dinner hosted by Congress leader Sonia Gandhi for MPs saw most leaders arguing that the party should not allow a situation where BJP would blame it for stalling or delaying the law. Even tactics like demanding scrutiny by a parliamentary committee were seen as problematic.

The mood of the BJP MPs, somewhat sombre since the party’s defeat in three major north Indian states, seemed brighter as many said they had receieved a positive feedback from constituents. The muted reactions of backward leaders and the support of Mayawati and NDA’s Dalit leader Republican Party of India chief Ramdas Athawale came as a reassuring signal.

The speeches in Lok Sabha indicated that political parties do not see any merit in opposing the proposed quota with the upper castes figuring in some way or the other in their scheme of things. The mood among BJP MPs was upbeat as they felt that the quota will be useful in assuaging discontent in the “non-reserved” sections over issues that range from the reinstatement of the tough provisions of the law to prevent atrocities against SCs and STs to the view that various pro-poor schemes offer them limited benefits.

During the four and half hour debate, the government defended itself against the charge that the law would prove divisive, pointing out that the demand had been raised by several parties and leaders and in the form of many private members bills. BJP speakers like Madhubani MP Hukumdev Narayan Yadav urged leaders from the backward classes to be “generous” in accepting that quotas for the poor among the upper castes were needed. “Lets not fall victim to any kind of fundamentalism,” he said.

Gehlot claimed that the bill is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion when he assumed power in 2014 that his government would be devoted to the cause of the poor and work for “sabka saath sabka vikas” (With all, development for all). “This is an historic decision and in the interest of the country,” he said.

Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi were present in the House when the bill was passed.

‘Forwards quota’ bill moved and passed on same day in Lok Sabha – Times of India