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Quota on PM plate

New Delhi, May 16: The Prime Minister seems to have decided to deal with the quota controversy himself rather than leave it to Arjun Singh, who today appeared ready to fall in line.

From tomorrow, Manmohan Singh will start consulting leaders of political parties on ways to implement the constitutional amendment that paves the way for education quotas for the socially backward. Singh has garnered the services of finance minister P. Chidambaram ' a staunch ally in his reforms drive ' and law minister H.R. Bhardwaj.

Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, who reportedly looks at any move involving Arjun with circumspection ' may not engage himself overtly, sources said.

Earlier, the Centre and the Congress breathed a little easier when Arjun appeared ready to toe the government line. At a meeting of the cabinet committee on political affairs last night, the government had worked out a formula for a phased rise in reservations.

The human resource development minister, answering a question in the Lok Sabha, said the Centre was “not unmindful” of the concerns of the anti-quota protesters. While it stayed committed to implementing the 93rd constitutional amendment, it was also “considering a number of suggestions”.

At yesterday’s 90-minute CCPA meeting, Arjun reportedly did not “actively intervene” or speak. “But he got the message that neither the government nor the Congress was in favour of confrontation and that the damage done over the past few weeks had to be undone,” an official source said.

The Prime Minister will not speak on the subject in Parliament, sources said.

Chidambaram, who will help him tackle the thorny problem, had spoken up for OBC quotas while campaigning for the Tamil Nadu polls. “Unlike Arjun, he marshalled his arguments with the finesse of a lawyer, making his point without ruffling feathers,” a Congress source said.

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