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Quota fracas: Were Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks a trial balloon?

RSS chief’s remarks on affirmative action have the BJP in a bind. The party needs to answer some tough questions

By: Express News Service |
Updated: September 23, 2015 7:49:12 am
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With a crucial assembly election ahead in Bihar, the BJP has been quick to distance itself from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s criticism of the country’s affirmative action policy. In an interview to the Organiser, a publication identified with the Sangh Parivar, Bhagwat said that the reservation policy has been “politicised” and “a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality, including some representatives from the society… should decide which categories require reservation and for how long”. He also called for “non-political committee-like autonomous commissions” to be “the implementation authority” of the reservation for socially backward classes. The RSS has since issued a clarification that its sarsanghchalak was not commenting on the current state of the reservation policy.

So, what was Bhagwat talking about? Were his remarks meant to be a trial balloon to test if the climate is conducive for a debate on quotas in the country? That Bhagwat chose to make his comments against the background of the Patel agitation in Gujarat demanding a rehaul of the policy is significant. Moreover, it cannot escape anybody’s attention that BJP ministers at the Centre had recently exchanged notes with the RSS leadership on various issues. A senior RSS/ BJP functionary, Ram Madhav, explained in these pages that the interaction was the coming together of “the ideological family”. Hence, the BJP, which has said “it does not support any reconsideration of the existing constitutional provision of reservation”, should clarify if it agrees with Bhagwat’s views that a “non-political committee” should decide who qualifies for affirmative action and for how long, and be the implementing authority of the programme. The BJP may also explain to the RSS that social justice, the objective of affirmative action, has always been debated on the terrain of politics, and policymaking is the prerogative of elected representatives. India’s reservation policy was the outcome of extended debate in the Constituent Assembly. Parliament and the courts have supervised the working of the Constitution to ensure its provisions are implemented in their true spirit. No “autonomous” or “non-political” committee can encroach on their domain, or that of the commissions tasked with the specific responsibility of identifying the communities qualifying as Scheduled Castes, Tribes or Other Backward Classes. The Constitution does not provide space for extra-constitutional bodies to formulate public policy.

The RSS chief’s views may have unwittingly forced the BJP on the defensive, particularly in Bihar, where the party’s principal opponent, the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine, has been reiterating its commitment to the social justice agenda. The responses from the likes of Lalu Prasad and Mayawati indicate that Bhagwat has provided them sufficient ammunition to open a new battlefront.

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