The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ministers blast quota rallies

Jaipur, May 4: Three Gujjar ministers of the Ashok Gehlot government, who till recently participated in community rallies demanding Scheduled Tribe status in place of the present Other Backward Castes tag, today not only distanced themselves from such gatherings, but also criticised them as “politically motivated”.

At a joint press conference here, panchayati raj minister Govind Singh Gurjar, agriculture marketing minister Ram Kishan Verma and information and public relations minister Jitendra Singh said the demands were damaging social harmony and sowing the seeds of animosity among communities, especially the Meenas (a Scheduled Tribe) and the Gujjars.

They also disapproved of the participation of two Brahmin colleagues, personnel minister B.D. Kalla and higher education minister Shailendra Joshi, in the Brahmin Mahasabha’s rallies to demand 15 per cent reservation.

The ministers claimed these rallies were politically motivated as the demands — revision of status of the Gujjars and reservation for Brahmins on an economic basis — required constitutional amendments and came under the purview of Parliament.

In a handout distributed at the news conference, the trio committed themselves to their community’s demand and said they would support with their “tan, man, dhan (body, mind and money)” any community “agitation, march or dharna” in Delhi to raise the demand before the Centre.

The Congress seems to have realised that by sympathising with the reservation demand by several communities before the last Assembly elections, it had unleashed forces beyond its control. Now, in a tactical move, the party is trying to turn these forces against the BJP by directing the demands at the Centre.

But the ministers’ dilemma was clear when asked why they had been participating in the rallies if they believed that these were disrupting social harmony. They denied attending such rallies even as reporters made clear their disbelief.

Asked whether they would continue to attend the rallies, the ministers tried to remain non-committal. When pressed, only Govind Singh said “no”, the other two remained silent.

At the same time, the three ministers asserted that they supported the community’s demand in principle and claimed the Congress, too, backed the demand for reservation on economic basis.

Govind Singh rued that a section of the youth was under the wrong impression that a mere change in the community’s status would enable them to get a government job, especially in the all-India and state civil services.

The Congress seems to have woken up to the unleashing of uncontrollable forces when a group of Gujjar youths disturbed a rally held at Ajmer. The Congress rally to kick off the Congress campaign in the state was held a week after VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s arrest.

The protesters, demanding revision of their community’s status, had heckled all the senior Congress leaders, including party general secretary in charge of Rajasthan Ambika Soni, the chief minister and state Congress chief Girija Vyas. They had refused to calm down despite appeals by Govind Singh and other community leaders. Peace was finally restored when the police forcibly took away the most vocal demonstrators.

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