Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Saturday advocated a “rethink” on caste-based reservations in the country, saying even Babasaheb Ambedkar had supported the same.
Addressing officials and representatives of local bodies at an event on smart cities here, Mahajan said, “Ambedkarji had said, ‘Give reservations for 10 years and after 10 years, do a rethink. Bring them to that stage’. We have done nothing. Even I am guilty of this… We have not thought about it. We do not contemplate why this (a rethink) has not happened.”
Later in the day, replying to questions on her speech in Ahmedabad, Mahajan sought to clarify that she wasn’t expressing an opinion for or against the reservation policy. “What I am saying is we should also find out the reasons why we have not achieved the society dreamt of by Dr Ambedkar. We should ponder over the reasons for that also,” Mahajan said.
A few months ago, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment seeking a review of the reservation policy was believed to have hurt the BJP in the Bihar Assembly elections, and had prompted a series of clarifications from the party.
In October 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that there was no possibility of scrapping the reservation system, at a foundation stone laying ceremony in Mumbai for a grand memorial for Ambedkar.
Mahajan’s remarks come in the midst of the BJP trying to do damage control over its leaders’ remarks on Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad, which is seen as linked to caste discrimination. In Gujarat, the party has been facing protests by the wealthy Patidar community, whose demand for a quota for itself is seen as largely an anti-reservation campaign.
In her Ahmedabad speech, while seeking a rethink on caste-based quotas, Mahajan had narrated her experiences of a visit to Vitenam, saying, “In the last 20-25 years, they (the Vietnamese) have progressed so much that it can leave us surprised. At least I was surprised. Even after 60-70 years of Independence, we have not been able to eliminate casteism. Please excuse me, and do not take this politically.”
In the context of smart cities, Mahajan said removing encroachments in cities was a big challenge for the political class. “I understand that… If I displace somebody, then tomorrow there will be no votes for me; and if there are no votes, then how will I remain a representative? So what will I do? I will do nothing. In politics, votes are a priority… But I also need to display strength in removing the encroachments, and at the same time, providing all the facilities…,” she said.