You have sought a relook at the reservation policy. What prompted you to do that?
The whole intention of the Mathura conclave is to figure out what is happening to the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, to find a way forward… No agenda has been circulated as of now. So one of the suggestions for consideration that I have given is… there is discontent on the ground in UP and fingers are being pointed at the social justice regime. The Congress is meeting at this time to chart out its future course in UP. We have not done well in UP, so we have to break new ground, chart new territory and we have to see and explore and discuss threadbare which sections do we cater to and what do we do for the people of the state.
But your suggestion has come at a time when the Bihar elections are just days away. Caste plays a crucial role in Bihar.
It is Uttar Pradesh specific. It has nothing to do with Bihar or Gujarat. I am not against any caste. I am looking at and talking about the disadvantaged among the reserved category and the disadvantaged among the general category… that means the dominant castes have squeezed out the reserved sections who need and are entitled to reservation benefits but are not getting these. Even the dominant categories of castes, there are two sections — one who has been close to power and has a family history of being politically strong. They have thrived… That needs a relook and that is my only intention.
But why now when the Congress is not in power at the Centre or in the state?
Again, it has nothing to do with Bihar or Gujarat. But we certainly don’t want a Gujarat happening in UP where people are on the streets demanding benefits of reservation and the army is called out. The Congress has the responsibility to chart new territories and take bold, daring decisions.
How exactly do you want to change the current system? Are you suggesting removing sections from the OBC list and including new sections?
I am suggesting a relook at the reservation system of the backward castes. I am not talking about Dalits, because that is very complicated and has other issues to it.
I am initiating a debate, a demand where the social justice pie needs certain inclusions of people who deserve reservation and are not getting the benefits, and taking out people of this pie who don’t need reservation but are getting it.
But what should be the criteria? Are you suggesting economic criteria?
The criteria could be economic, which is the usual one which one keeps hearing. Of course, economic is one of the parameters. Today, you have the technology, you do surveys… Figure out income, access to education, political power, family history, number of government jobs in a family etc…
You can actually pinpoint, irrespective of caste, whether this person needs government intervention or not. You cannot have some people hijacking the benefits of social justice regime and throttling any debate, discussion because of possible vote power, political power or because they are entrenched in police or bureaucracy.
Won’t such a move trigger a backlash?
The Congress has never wavered in its commitment or shied away from something which it believed in, especially concerning the poor. The whole social justice regime was to be for the poorest of the poor or the last section of the pyramid. It did work, but in the last 20 years it lost… at least in UP I can say for sure, and got hijacked by some dominant people because of their history of being powerful, politically and economically. They walked away with the lion’s share, far exceeding their numbers… Even for upper castes, their time has come. They just can’t be solely excluded because they belong to certain castes. If an upper caste individual had some land in the 1950s, that land would have got fragmented among his great grandchildren… So that criteria doesn’t hold anymore, that they were in an advantageous position at one point of time. Now you need to have a fresh look. No scheme caters to the general category… If somebody is poor and left behind, how can one say that the social justice regime is just and transparent.
Do you think your party will be receptive to the idea?
I am very hopeful that at least in UP, where this social unrest on the ground exists and people are feeling that inequalities have increased… the party will give it thought and discuss it.
Last year, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi had suggested quota on the basis of financial backwardness. The Congress did not take it kindly.
This is not a decision that has been taken. It is a suggestion for consideration at the chintan shivir. It is a platform for discussing and deliberating all sorts of ideas to find the way forward, taking all factors into account. But it is a given that certain castes in UP have hijacked the social justice system and that is not acceptable, as it was not designed for that.
You have mentioned Yadavs.
I have said that even among the Yadavs, there are two categories, and not all have benefited. So you have to weed out those who have benefited and do not need it. That decision has to be taken. On the other hand, you have to include others who are out of the ambit and need affirmative action. That is the call and demand that the Congress should take up.