The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big Two for middle path, Arjun rigid

New Delhi, May 14: The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi are believed to favour Rahul Gandhi’s call for a “middle path” on the Other Backward Classes quota, but Arjun Singh refused to bend today.

As the anti-reservation agitation gained momentum across the country, Arjun rejected suggestions for a “relook” into his proposal for a 27 per cent OBC quota in central institutions of higher learning.

“We are a democracy and not a banana republic. You cannot hijack the process and browbeat me. There is no need for desperation and anger. Their (the students’) issues can be resolved with patience,” he told reporters.

The Union human resource development minister poured scorn on the Knowledge Commission, set up by the Prime Minister and headed by Sam Pitroda, most of whose members oppose the planned OBC reservation.

“Well, with all due respect to the great commission, I must point out to them that they are not above the Constitution. They do not need to speak to any of us. Let them decide and the country will follow them if they are above the Constitution.”

Arjun, who returned the draft bill on the new quota to the Union cabinet on the day polling for the five Assemblies ended, said it was for the Prime Minister to decide when he should list the matter before the cabinet.

“As soon as the Prime Minister allows it to come in the cabinet, a decision will be taken,” he said when asked if the bill would be tabled in the current session.

As the government seemed split on the subject, sources said, the bill was “unlikely” to come up in this session, which lasts until May 23.

A source close to the Prime Minister said that although he and Sonia haven’t yet spoken their minds on the quota, their views were “broadly” summed up by a remark that Rahul had made during the Rae Bareli campaign.

“It is a complex issue, both sides have their views,” the Amethi MP had said.

Arjun’s take on the “Rahul formula” has been that a middle path can be found only in a “calm and cool atmosphere and not when lathis are used by one side and slogans by the other”.

“The Prime Minister believes there should be access (for the underprivileged) with excellence (in institutions of higher learning). A student from the general category, who does very well in school, shouldn’t feel he cannot take up medicine or engineering because of the quotas,” the source explained.

“Simultaneously, the OBCs and Dalits shouldn’t conclude that the doors of these institutions are shut to them'. The government must devise ways to address both constituencies.”

The Prime Minister believes that instead of sticking to the beaten path of percentages, a new way should be found “revolving around the principles of fairness and transparency”, sources said.

They admitted the government was groping for answers and had found no “ideal” formula from among the models of affirmative action practised in the West.

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