The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM and Arjun work on united face

New Delhi, May 16: The government and the Congress are trying to get their act together and present a united face of the coalition on quotas.

Human resource development minister Arjun Singh called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to clear the air following his ministry’s move to implement reservation of backward classes in education.

At another level, the Arjun camp is reportedly trying to rope in Rahul Gandhi’s support, pointing at “rich electoral benefits” in the Hindi heartland if the Congress manages to showcase itself as a champion of backward classes’ aspirations.

The Prime Minister has assured Arjun that his government was collectively committed to implement the quota pledge made in the National Common Minimum Programme. On his part, Arjun professed complete faith and loyalty to the Prime Minister.

Sources said the “one-to-one” meeting between the Prime Minister and Arjun came after a long time.

Manmohan is said to have taken the lead in crediting his government as the architect of the quota bill. Arjun praised the Prime Minister for removing legislative hurdles, inviting OBC members of Parliament for discussions and creating an atmosphere of consensus for the smooth passage of the Constitution amendment.

The Arjun camp is now busy selling the line that the quota move would help “emerging leadership” in the Congress, a thinly-veiled reference to Rahul.

The extension of this theory is that Rahul, touted as the future leader of the party, will benefit immensely in the Hindi heartland if the Congress takes the lead in championing the OBC cause.

While a section of the Congress is wary of this line, Arjun is confident that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul support the continuation of social reforms as enshrined in the Constitution.

Congress MP V. Hanumantha Rao, perceived to be close to Arjun, is drumming up support for the quota bill. Rao, the convener of the influential parliamentary forum of OBCs, is confident of getting the support of over 100 MPs.

Arjun, having projected himself as a vocal advocate of quotas, now seems inclined to engage the government as well as the party. He told the Prime Minister that he would go by whichever way Manmohan deemed fit to implement the thorny issue.

Arjun’s effort to bring in the Rahul factor is an indication that the “loyalist” will abide by the high command’s diktat. This suggests that Manmohan will get a free hand to formulate a strategy that strikes as much balance as possible.

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