Caste Quagmire

Quota politics is yet again heating up the Hindi heartland 

Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow 

Even as the two main national parties are in dithers about the implications of the SC and ST quota in promotions on their future electoral prospects, a no holds barred battle is taking place in Uttar Pradesh between the two principle casteist parties on this contentious issue.

While both Congress and BJP have ostensibly supported the move, there is simmering unease in its state units about the decision. This quota bill has recharged both, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP). SP, particularly, has taken to the streets on the pretext that the bill will further divide the society.

The Congress-led UPA government was forced to bring in the bill seeking constitutional amendments for aiding quota in promotions after Mayawati bailed the government out on the contentious issue of FDI in multi-brand retail. For the first time, an ally had put a price to extending support. Reliance on allies had increased after Mamata Banerjee withdrew her support to UPA-2 on the issue of FDI. For the record, both the UP-based parties had bailed out UPA on retail giving their own reasons as to why they did not want the government to go. Farcically, the SP had walked out from Parliament and allowed the UPA to breathe easy.

The reason for BSP to demand quota in promotion is easy to comprehend as it is keen to claim ownership over all the benefits that come to Dalits all over the country. Mayawati wants to widen her appeal among Dalits and tribals all over the country. She aims to translate the move into votes in the next general elections. Earlier, BSP had promised Muslims that it will fight for their reservation as well.

Mayawati also wanted to exclude the possibility of Congress taking advantage when she launched a full blown attack on Sonia Gandhi. She blamed Congress for sponsoring chaos in the House when the bill was tabled. Interestingly, in a populist move, SP had earlier fielded one of its SC MP, Yashveer Singh, from Nagina constituency, to tear the bill in the House resulting in utter chaos, even as a combative Sonia Gandhi led from the front.   

The reason for BSP to demand quota in promotion is easy to comprehend as it is keen to claim ownership over all the benefits that come to Dalits all over the country 

Analysts believe that SP will gain from its opposition to the quota in promotions. The party leadership feels that since the BSP has antagonised upper castes and OBCs through its stand on the bill, this could upset the social engineering that Mayawati had done all these years under the popular slogan of ‘Sarvajan Sukhaye, Sarvjan Hitaye’.  The SP believes that it can gain the support of upper castes while consolidating its core votebank of OBCs. Along with her consolidated Dalit vote base, upper caste voters in UP had propelled Mayawati to power in 2007.

Political analysts think that SP will gain from its stand to oppose the promotion quota. Indeed, the anti-Dalit consolidation of upper caste votes had taken the sheen out of Mayawati’s campaign and propelled SP to power in the 2012 assembly polls with Akhilesh Yadav becoming the youngest chief minister in India.

Meanwhile, the move has created fissures among government employees. The day the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, almost 18 lakh employees under the state government in UP went on an indefinite strike which was openly backed by the SP. In protest, Dalit officers said that they will work for an extra four hours every day to clear the backlog.

SP leaders like Ashok Bajpai and Lucknow MLA Ravidas Mehrotra are constantly addressing rallies of the employees. Leaders of other anti-reservation outfits like Shailendra Dubey of the Sarvjan Hitay Sanrakshan Samiti also claim that they will not take it lying down. “When Mayawati had passed orders for reservation in promotions in the state, the employees had gone to the apex court and managed to get a stay order. During her regime, only Dalit officers were promoted,” says Dubey.

Some senior leaders of Congress and BJP too have openly supported the agitating employees

Some senior leaders of Congress and BJP too have openly supported the agitating employees. Laxmikant Bajpai, BJP president of the state unit, and Congress MLA Vivek Singh were seen supporting the campaign against the bill. Ironically, state headquarters of both the parties were attacked by angry anti-reservation employees.

In contrast, pro-reservation groups have also started a campaign. “If there can be reservation in promotion in Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, then why not in UP,” asks Avdesh Verma of the Aarakshan Bachao Samiti. Surely, quota politics is yet again heating up the Hindi heartland.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2013