Calcutta, Feb. 26: The debate was over whether reservation was good or bad. What it threw up in the process was a reserved Lalu Prasad.
A 4,000-strong crowd, give or take a few, at The Telegraph Calcutta Club National Debate this evening laughed all the same, though possibly the only witticism coming out of his mouth was “hi-fi wallas”, a label he hung on the elite.
Basking in the afterglow of the railway budget, which has overnight changed his image from that of a man who destroyed Bihar to that of the minister who rescued the railways, Lalu Prasad said: “We are the victims and we want our rights.”
“Reservation is the need of the hour. Industry shouldn’t be afraid of it.” He was all seriousness: Is an image makeover truly under way'
The leader of the backward castes and his fellow politicians opposing the motion ' “In the opinion of the house reservation has not been beneficial to the country and will not benefit industry”' however, missed a sitter.
Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra, who opened the debate, presented a slew of statistics attempting to prove how reservation had not helped. Among them was the fact that of the 406 million employed in the private sector only 9 million (2.2 per cent) were from the backward classes.
The 2.2 per cent figure was telling. CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury did pick holes in the argument, turning the statistics around to suit his purpose, but agreed with Mitra that “private-public partnership” was the answer.
BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan and quizmaster Derek ’Brien made up the rest of the team that opposed the motion.
Moderated by Dileep Padgaonkar, the debate had former Bengal governor Viren J. Shah, IIM Calcutta professor Anup Sinha and journalist Barkha Dutt ' apart from Mitra ' on the other side.
Sinha argued his side’s case with examples and emotion. “There are too many categories and slots we put people into,” he said, adding that stereotyping branded people and was detrimental in the long run.
His example ' “are we going to make reservations for people under five feet in a basketball team'” ' incited the next speaker against the motion, ’Brien, to cite cricket.
The Indian team, he said (as did Mahajan), was doing well because zonal representation ' or reservation ' had brought in a variety of players. ’Brien added that “reservation is preservation with a silent P”.
Shah quoted the Constitution and B.R. Ambedkar ' popular with both sides ' to prove that “reservation takes the community backward”.
Mahajan made an impassioned plea, stressing that “there can’t be equal opportunities in an unequal society”.
The popular Barkha Dutt counted the men on the panel to make the point if the only woman there made it because of reservation. She narrated how she went to Modern School, St Stephen’s College, Jamia Milia Islamia and Columbia University to earn her way to where she was now.
The motion was carried.
In the end, as Yechury summed up, there were more than just two sides to the argument. One opposes reservation, one supports and a third that says it hasn’t been implemented properly.