The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal puts economic quota on House test

Jaipur, Aug. 10: Looking for signs of political climatic change in the shower-swept desert capital, Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to tame a gathering storm by agreeing to table a constitutional amendment bill for economic reservation this week if the Congress-led Opposition agrees to it.

“The whole country will have to formulate a policy. The BJP alone cannot do it. The support of the Opposition, including the Congress, is required. If other parties will support, we are ready to bring in a constitution amendment bill when the Parliament session resumes. But first we should have confidence that it would not be defeated,” Vajpayee told a public meeting where he launched the campaign for the November Assembly polls.

Parliament will reconvene on Wednesday after a recess but most political parties are ambiguous on economic reservations — a hot potato that has been pitchforked on to the centre-stage by the Congress government in Rajasthan when its Cabinet recommended a 14 per cent quota for the poor among upper castes.

But the Prime Minister was forced to lob the demand — a key issue in election-bound Rajasthan — into the Opposition’s court as a group of people, including BJP dissidents, raised pro-reservation slogans and tried to disrupt his meeting.

Suspended BJP leader Devi Singh Bhati, a Rajput spearheading the movement for quotas for the upper caste poor, had threatened to heckle the Prime Minister but he was arrested last night and his slogan-shouting supporters numbering around 300 were chased away by police today before they could do much damage.

“Jo kahna tha, vah kah diya gaya aur jo samajhna tha vah samajh liya gaya (what was to be told has been said and what was to be understood has been understood),” the Prime Minister said as the police wielded the cane and arrested 15 people.

“Those who raised slogans have gone realising the ice will not melt,” Vajpayee added.

But the murmurs within the BJP and the chord Bhati’s campaign has struck among Rajputs and Brahmins did compel Vajpayee to raise reservation towards the end of his speech.

Faced with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s ingenious move to recommend economic quotas, the BJP had said on May 25 that it would ask the Prime Minister to set up a national commission on reservation “within a week”.

No headway was made on the commission since then, but Vajpayee has today taken the quota demand much further, daring the Opposition — most of which publicly oppose economic reservations — to make the next move.

The group spearheading the quota movement rejected Vajpayee’s proposal, dubbing it “double speak, just to waste time”.

Gehlot’s recommendation was largely symbolic because only a constitutional amendment in Parliament can implement the decision as Rajasthan already has 49 per cent job reservation. A Supreme Court ruling had made the constitutional amendment mandatory if the quotas exceeded 49 per cent.

As Vajpayee spoke, it began to rain but the large crowd held its ground, some people seeking shelter under polythene sheets and others soaking up the welcome shower.

Pointing towards the sky, Vajpayee said he hoped that the change in season was a harbinger of political change that would catapult Vasundhara Raje — the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate — to power.

The Prime Minister criticised the Opposition for stalling proceedings in Parliament on the controversy over Kargil.

war procurements. “In our days, we never created a scene. Now it has become a disease and no one knows who can catch it,” Vajpayee said.

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