The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Economic quota goes national on BJP’s back

Jaipur, May 25: Economic quota, a hot potato till now, made its way to the national political landscape today with the BJP asking the Vajpayee government to set up within a week a commission to grant job reservation for the financially weak among the upper castes.

The BJP’s proposal, made in response to the Congress-ruled Rajasthan’s suggestion for 14 per cent economic quotas, came after a meeting attended by a galaxy of the party’s national leaders, including .K. Advani, Venkaiah Naidu and Pramod Mahajan.

A resolution adopted after the BJP strategy session said the party was of the view that certain sections of society, which are not covered under existing reserved categories, were “economically so poor that they needed special treatment”.

This is the first time a national party has conceded the need for economic reservations. Though the Congress government in Rajasthan had mooted the 14 per cent quota after a sustained campaign by Rajputs and Brahmins, the AICC had rushed to clarify that it was meant only for the desert state.

The proposal for the commission will allow the BJP to buy time on the issue but it could set off another phase of caste polarisation witnessed soon after the Mandal Commission, which recommended sweeping quotas for the weak on the basis of caste, was set up.

The BJP resolution also added a new abbreviation — EBCs (economically backward classes) — in the lexicon of reservations, which was so far dominated by Mandalisation. The BJP, however, added that the party favoured the economic provision in addition to the reservation for existing castes.

Mahajan said the party would urge Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to set up the national commission within a week.

The resolution came four days after chief minister Ashok Gehlot pushed the BJP on the back foot by announcing 14 per cent job reservation for economically weaker sections among the upper castes, including Brahmins and Rajputs, in Rajasthan.

Gehlot’s announcement was largely symbolic because only a constitutional amendment in Parliament can implement the decision as Rajasthan already has 49 per cent job reservation. A Supreme Court ruling had made the constitutional amendment mandatory if the quotas exceed 49 per cent.

The BJP resolution held that the constitutional guarantee for reservation to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes should not only continue but also be implemented “in letter and spirit”. The party also reaffirmed its commitment to the existing reservation for the OBCs.

As economic reservation needs a constitutional amendment, the BJP resolution said it is necessary to define EBCs “scientifically” to determine the quota to be prescribed.

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