The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong job quota debate

New Delhi, June 25: The Congress is currently debating the “sensitive” issue of extending job reservation to the private sector for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

Indications are that the debate may crystallise into a clear policy line at the party’s three-day brainstorming session in Shimla, beginning July 7.

Reservation is one of the priority issues on the agenda for the session, Congress sources said. A seven-member panel, led by former Karnataka chief minister M. Veerappa Moily, is said to have emphasised the need for private-sector job quotas.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had set up the panel to prepare a discussion paper on the theme, Congress and Social Empowerment.

Set up to prepare the Shimla agenda, an apex coordination committee led by Pranab Mukherjee has scrutinised the panel’s draft recommendations.

“The Congress cannot ignore the fact that the jobs in the government and PSUs are progressively dwindling in the era of privatisation and disinvestment, adversely affecting the social objectives of the policy of reservation,” a senior leader, who is pushing for a clear party stand, said.

The Congress leadership, however, is wary about the likely negative reception of a clarification of its stand despite prominent Dalit and OBC leaders’ thrust for reservation.

At last month’s party chief ministers’ conclave in Srinagar, AICC general secretary Vayalar Ravi, who is an OBC leader, strongly pleaded for a clear stand.

Ravi went on to propose that the Congress-ruled states should take all legal and constitutional steps to provide private-sector job reservation.

Pending a final decision, the party leadership chose not to publicise Ravi’s presentation before the chief ministers.

The Congress also downplayed its Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s suggestion to enact a diversity law to encourage private job quotas.

Since economic reforms were introduced in 1991, the party has been talking about the desirability of such reservation. Yet, the leadership has been reluctant to take the plunge.

The party position spelled out at the Bangalore AICC plenary session two years ago mirrored the reluctance.

“Recognising the increasing role that the private sector is likely to play in the future in regard to employment generation, the Congress will give the most careful consideration to the various dimensions of the complex question of legally enforceable reservations in the private sector for different categories of disadvantaged sections of society,” the Congress had said.

The abundant caution can be traced to the party’s concern that the private sector could react negatively to its advocacy of job reservation.

The Congress also has to contend with the familiar argument that such a quota could discourage private and foreign investment in the country.

“These are sensitive issues which cannot be disregarded when we articulate our position on giving job reservation in the private sector,” a leader said.

A pro-private quota leader feels the party’s fears are largely misplaced. He argues that the extension of reservation to private educational institutions is working well in several states.

The Shimla conclave will also discuss reservations for forward castes on the basis of economic backwardness.

The move is prompted by the misgivings among OBCs about the Rajasthan government’s recent decision to provide 14 per cent reservation to the forward castes.

The Congress is keen to reassure them that the proposed forward-caste reservation would not affect the SC, ST and OBC quota of 50 per cent.

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