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Party turns up quota heat on PM

New Delhi, May 26: The BJP has stepped up pressure on the Centre a day after the party adopted a resolution demanding reservation for the economically backward classes (EBCs), a euphemism for the upper-caste poor, and constitution of a committee to consider the issue.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said the Prime Minister assured him the Cabinet would consider the party’s demands at the earliest and take an appropriate decision. Naidu called on Atal Bihari Vajpayee to brief him on the party central office-bearers’ meeting held yesterday in Jaipur.

“We requested the PM to appoint a commission for the economically backward classes so as to make them eligible for reservations without diluting the reservation quotas for the SCs, STs and OBCs,” Naidu told reporters.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan — appointed the national-level campaign committee convener for the five Assembly polls later this year —had allowed in a team of the Social Justice Front, a Rajasthan outfit seeking reservation for EBCs.

Deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, who chaired the office bearers’ meeting and was, thus, party to its decisions, reportedly told the Front members that their demand for a quota was “genuine” and a commission would be set up soon.

The Front is chaired by BJP legislator Devi Singh Bhatti, who was part of the delegation.

Party sources said they believed the Centre would get down to the task after Vajpayee and Advani returned from their overseas trips in mid-June.

Naidu took the opportunity today to deny that the BJP resolution was a response to the passage of a similar resolution by the Rajasthan Cabinet last week. “We will not allow the Congress to hide its failures (of alleged misgovernance) behind such resolutions. Our own resolution has got nothing to do with the decision of (Rajasthan chief minister) Ashok Gehlot,” he said.

The BJP chief argued that they had sought reservation for EBCs since the Jan Sangh era. He read out extracts of a resolution passed at a BJP national executive in Bhopal way back in 1985 to prove his point.

It read: “Reservations should be continued for SC/STs as before. Reservation should be made for other backward classes as recommended by the Mandal Commission. As poverty is an important contributory factor for backwardness, some reservation for other castes on basis of economic conditions should be given.”

Naidu claimed his party had raised the issue when the V.P. Singh-led Centre had implemented the Mandal Commission’s proposals. He, however, parried queries on why it took his party nearly two decades to pass a resolution enshrining a long-standing demand.

“It all depends on how one looks at it. We can say Gehlot’s decision was a reaction to our earlier resolution,” he said. The BJP, Naidu said, had to consider “all aspects” as reservation was a national issue entailing a major constitutional amendment.

The amendment is required because of the Supreme Court’s ceiling of 49 per cent on reservations in the post-Mandal phase, which excludes states such as Tamil Nadu which have had a 70 per cent quota for several decades.

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