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Govt stuck in quota bill cleft

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The Centre is groping for a strategy to break the deadlock in the Rajya Sabha over the passage of amendments to allow quotas in promotions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Sources said the government was considering the suspension of members who oppose the amendments for at least two days to ensure the changes were discussed and passed without disruptions.

The bill — introduced in the upper House on September 5 — has become a bone of contention between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP.

The Samajwadis disapprove the quota and were quick to overturn it in Uttar Pradesh as soon as Allahabad High Court quashed it in April. The measure was brought in by Mayawati. The high court order was upheld by the apex court, leaving the Centre with no option but to tweak the Constitution and give states an enabling mechanism.

BSP chief Mayawati has set a deadline of December 14 for completing the task but Samajwadi MPs have been scuttling proceedings since the winter session began last month.

A cabinet minister involved in the negotiations with both the parties said: “Let’s see if something comes about tomorrow.”

Another minister, engaged in track-two talks, said suspension was not an option unless “pressure from the BSP pushes us to”.

At the core of the Centre’s seeming helplessness is its dependence on the heartland rivals for the UPA’s survival. Congress sources said the government didn’t want to be shoved into a situation in which the Samajwadis or the BSP might withdraw support.

“That will make us critically reliant on the other. Plus, allies like the DMK and the NCP might leverage their importance against us in case of vulnerability,” a source said.

Neither Uttar Pradesh party has indicated it would dilute its stand. “We supported the government on FDI and we will force it to reciprocate,” a BSP source stressed.

Mayawati has directed her 15 Rajya Sabha MPs to stay put in Delhi and not leave the House even when it is adjourned.

The Samajwadis, too, have made it clear that their stance is non-negotiable. “It is a carefully thought-out position, so we will not amend it. We challenge the government to evict us from the House if it desires to pass the bill,” a party MP said. The Samajwadis are backed by the Shiv Sena’s four members.

BJP sources, however, said they would back the amendments. “The Gujarat polls are on. Dalits and tribals are important, so we will not dissent. As it is, we don’t have the minorities with us,” a leader said.