Fearful of repercussions in Bihar from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a panel to “decide which categories require reservation and for how long”, the BJP said on Monday that it “very clearly does not support any reconsideration of the existing constitutional provision of reservation for the SC, ST, OBC and Extremely Backward Classes”.
BJP MP Udit Raj, the party’s Dalit face, also took exception to Bhagwat’s remarks — he did not name him though — and said if “organisations directly or indirectly related to the BJP” raise questions on the reservation policy, it will send a wrong signal to SCs and STs that the party is against reservation for them.
Quick to seize on the RSS chief’s suggestion, RJD chief Lalu Prasad dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify his position on ending reservation as suggested by his “aaqa (lord)”. In a Facebook post, he said: “…Maai ka doodh piya hai to khatam kar ke dikhao. Kiski kitni taakat hai pata lag jayega (if you are the true son of your mother, go ahead and end it and you will know whose strength is greater)”.
Lalu later told reporters: “Dalits and OBCs account for 80 per cent of the population. Whereas we are talking of increasing reservation in proportion to the population of OBCs and Dalits, the BJP and RSS are talking about putting an end to it.”
The JD(U) said any such interference would weaken Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward communities.
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“The reservation policy is yet to reach its goal. In this situation, any interference in it, including a review, would go against weaker and marginalised sections of the society,” said JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP K C Tyagi.
The Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, BJP’s ally in Bihar, also clarified its stand on the issue. “Reservation is a settled issue in India as mandated by the Constitution. Beyond this, we have nothing to say,” RLSP chief general secretary Shivraj Singh said.
As Bhagwat’s remarks triggered reactions from across the political spectrum, BJP-RSS coordinator Krishna Gopal, RSS’s media in-charge Manmohan Vaidya and general secretary Ram Lal were deployed for damage control. Later, the Sangh issued a statement on the interview, saying Bhagwat had “not made any comments on the reservation being given at present to various weaker sections of society”.
“He said that according to the intentions of those who drafted the Constitution, people should collectively reflect on how to ensure that the benefits of reservation reach all weaker sections of the society. This interview was not on reservation, but on integral humanism and hence must be seen in this light,” Vaidya said in the statement.
Earlier, RSS mouthpieces Organiser and Panchajanya had quoted Bhagwat as saying: “If we had implemented this (reservation) policy as envisaged by the Constitution makers instead of doing politics over it, then the present situation would not have arrived. Since inception, it (reservation) has been politicised.”
He was quoted as suggesting the formation of a “committee of people, including representatives from the society concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality… They should decide which categories require reservation and for how long. Non-political committee like autonomous commissions should be the implementation authority; political authorities should supervise them for honesty and integrity”.
On interest groups, Bhagwat said in the interview: “Interest groups reflect our aspirations. But through interest groups we should not strive to address those aspirations at the cost of others. We should have an integral approach of welfare for all. The thinking that the government is different from us, should be altered. Harmonisation of interests is possible. Both the government and the society should realise that my interest is in collective interest. Suppression of one section by the other is against the interests of all.”
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav took to Twitter: “The RSS clarifies that Shri Bhagwatji has not made any comment on the existing reservation system.”
Later, the BJP issued a statement asserting its support to Constitutional reservation for the SC, ST, OBC, Backward and Extremely Backward Class. It said the party “firmly believes that reservation is important for the social, education and economic development of these groups. The BJP is not in favour of any reconsideration of these Constitutional provisions.”
But it added: “However, the BJP is further of the view that if further measures are suggested for those who are economically and socially backward, then the same is welcome.”
The timing of Bhagwat’s interview is learnt to have stunned the BJP, especially with the OBC factor being its biggest challenge in the Bihar assembly polls next month. Bhagwat’s statement will cause “ektarfa nuksan” (one-sided loss) in Bihar, said a senior party leader.
If not handled in time, sources said, Bhagwat’s statement can create problems for the party’s state unit in Gujarat too, where it is expecting a backlash from the OBCs to the Patel agitation.
A week before Bhagwat’s interview, Vaidya had told Gujarat’s Sadhna weekly that there should be an appropriate arrangement to help all economically backward classes.
In the event, Bhagwat’s statement has sent a clear message about who has the final say when it comes to matters of “national interest” in the saffron parivar. “The Bihar election will come and go but deliberations on issues of national interest should continue always,” said a senior RSS functionary.
Meanwhile, Udit Raj, Lok Sabha MP from North-West Delhi, said he disagreed with the view that there is need for the constitution of a committee to review the reservation policy.
”Those who oppose caste-based reservation have not seen the worst life Dalits lead in this country,” Udit Raj told The Indian Express.
He added that he would write to party chief Amit Shah, cautioning about the political consequences of identifying with suggestions to review the reservation policy.