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Quota wish after heat

New Delhi, Sept.8: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today indicated that efforts were underway to introduce economic reservation, saying he wished it to happen before the upcoming Assembly elections.

“Efforts are on. We want this to happen before Assembly elections,” Vajpayee told reporters at Rashtrapati Bhavan after today’s swearing-in.

The government will find it extremely difficult to get a mandatory constitutional amendment passed before the Assembly polls, scheduled for November.

Growing discontent in the BJP in poll-bound Rajasthan — the epicentre of a campaign for quotas for the poor among the upper castes — is being seen as the principal reason for the Prime Minister’s comments made in response to a specific question from a reporter. The BJP, especially its Rajasthan unit, has been pressing Vajpayee to implement economic quotas.

At a meeting convened by the central leadership here on September 5, Rajasthan BJP chief Vasundhara Raje made a forceful demand for such quotas. The meeting was also attended by Advani, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, finance minister Jaswant Singh and general secretary Pramod Mahajan. Sources said Naidu told the state leaders the Centre had already initiated follow-up action.

Vajpayee had announced his government’s decision to provide quota for the upper-caste poor at a rally in Jaipur recently. The cabinet later discussed it and decided to set up a commission.

A committee was also constituted under deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani for a dialogue with other political parties to reach a consensus. This approach was adopted after legal experts advised the government that a constitutional amendment is needed to introduce the quota.

The winter session of Parliament is likely between mid-November to December 23. By then, the election process will be in motion and the government may not be able to announce any populist measures.

When a reporter asked whether his government proposed to nominate former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao to the Rajya Sabha to fill a remaining vacancy, Vajpayee shook his head, implying a no. Another reporter asked if Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah was also being considered. “Anyone can come from here or there,” Vajpayee said.

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