The Rajya Sabha faced a peculiar situation on Friday, when YSRCP member V Vijaysai Reddy refused to withdraw his private member’s Bill seeking reservation for OBCs in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, and demanded a vote on the Bill.
The government, which opposes the Bill, does not have a majority in the Upper House. But on Friday, with opposition benches near empty, the Bill would have been stuck, but that would have meant that BJP would vote against a Bill which seeks reservation for OBCs, which would have been bad optics.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, deftly handled the situation, arguing that since the Bill seeks to amend the Constitution, it requires a majority of two-third of the members present and voting. The argument triggered heated exchanges between Reddy, Congress members Jairam Ramesh and B K Hariprasad on one side and Prasad and Leader of the House Thaawarchand Gehlot on the other.
Reddy did not withdraw the Bill, despite Prasad and Gehlot urging him to do so. The YSRCP leader said the population of OBCs is more than 50 per cent in all states, and justice still eludes them even after seven decades of independence. Prasad said the BJP government is committed to the welfare of the OBCs but a voting cannot take place as it is being sought on a Bill which seeks to amend the Constitution.
As the heated exchanges continued, Satyanarayan Jatiya, who was on the Chair, said the rules are clear — that an “amendment of this Constitution may be initiated only by introduction of a Bill for the purpose in either House of Parliament and when a Bill is passed in each House by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority not less than two-third of the Members of that House present and voting”.
Finally, Reddy relented. He said the objection that the Bill cannot be voted upon since it seeks to amend the Constitution was not raised when it was tabled. “The Law Minister is raising the objection after the debate is over, which according to me is not justified,” he said, and then staged a walkout, ending the stalemate.
The Bill proposes to ensure a proportionate representation to OBCs in representative bodies, and all the Opposition members who participated in the debate supported it. In his reply, Prasad said the founders of the Constitution had laid down reservation provisions for SCs and STs after much deliberation. He added that the number of seats in Lok Sabha cannot be increased till the 2026 Census, and “if more reservation is given, you will deprive SC/ST reservation”.
Prasad said the BJP has always worked for empowering OBCs and argued Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself belonged to the OBC category. Prasad also named several leaders belonging to backward communities like Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Uma Bharti and Karpuri Thakur.