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Economic quota churn in Congress

New Delhi, Feb. 4: A churning on caste-based reservation appears to have started in the Congress with powerful general secretary Janardan Dwivedi asking Rahul Gandhi to take a bold decision to change the existing system which, he said, had failed to help the intended beneficiaries.

Dwivedi, who had talked of “ending caste-based reservation” in interviews to news agencies PTI and ANI, explained today that he was not against special measures for backwards but believed that caste as the sole criterion had not achieved the objective of creating a caste-less and class-less society.

Economic criteria should be used to identify beneficiaries among the backwards, he argued, adding that he was not opposed to the inclusion of poor from other communities.

This is a major demand because Dwivedi is an insider and a conservative Congress mind who would not run the risk of taking a position in conflict with the leadership’s orientation.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) under Rajiv Gandhi had passed a resolution on August 29, 1990, expressing similar sentiments. It had described as half-baked the then V.P. Singh government’s approach in accepting the Mandal Commission recommendations, and argued against making caste the sole criterion for affirmative action.

That resolution pushed for a graded analysis of each caste group among the backwards to exclude the privileged — people who held high posts in government, professionals, ministers, taxpayers and people owning land beyond a certain limit.

Dwivedi appears to have dug up Rajiv’s wisdom to persuade Rahul, who has set his sights on urban youths, a large number of whom clamour for a just system.

Dwivedi repeatedly said he was only making a request to the party leadership as Rahul had opened up the manifesto-making exercise and invited suggestions from everyone. “If the party accepts these views, fine. Otherwise I will abide by the party’s decision,” he said.

But it doesn’t appear such an innocent intervention as he could have given this personal advice to Rahul without inviting a public discourse. Dwivedi is no Digvijaya Singh and has not publicly aired his personal views in the 36 years he has been in the Congress.

The Congress obviously is going to reopen the caste chapter and wants a debate on the issue before making a promise for a change in its manifesto. While the argument for excluding privileged sections among the OBCs — an extension of the creamy layer debate that the Supreme Court initiated — would attract little opposition, the proposal to include the poor from the higher castes is bound to trigger controversy.

But the Congress has to ensure it can retain a chunk of the upper caste votes, which have been drifting towards the BJP at least in the Hindi heartland.

Dwivedi today argued passionately that those at the bottom of the economic ladder must be the target of state protection. “I don’t mind if the quota is exhausted within the backwards only after giving priority to the weakest among them,” he said. This is not like making a blunt demand for reservation to the upper caste poor.

As head of the parliamentary standing committee of the HRD ministry when Arjun Singh brought his controversial 27 per cent reservation clause in educational institutions, Dwivedi had suggested similar methods.

The cabinet had then rejected the standing committee proposals. But election time offers political parties greater opportunities to flirt with creative ideas and one insider has just lobbed the ball in the courts of other parties. Any final decision will be taken after assessing the response, though the party officially said Dwivedi’s suggestion would be examined.

Dwivedi also said that it was a mistake to form the government in 2009 but nobody has taken that seriously.

On caste-based reservation, he said in the interview: “This should have come to an end. Why it did not happen so far was because vested interests got involved. Does the real needy person even among the Dalits and backward castes get the benefits of reservation? Those in the upper crust of these communities only access the benefits. There is a difference between social justice and casteism. The concept of social justice has now turned into casteism... I believe there is a need to dismantle this.”

He added: “Reservation on the basis of the economic condition of people should be talked about. Rahulji is the future leader of Congress. Only one who rises above all this and breaks the boundaries of caste and communalism will be the future leader of the country. Only then a society on the basis of equality can be built.”