Parliament has cleared the 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill guaranteeing 10% quota in employment and education to economically weaker sections in the general category. In both Houses, the Bill was passed the very same day it was introduced. The Upper House saw nearly ten-hour heated debate before it was put to vote. The Opposition accused the government of bringing the Bill in haste to improve the NDA’s chance in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The Bill will now be sent for President’s assent.
Meanwhile, a debate has started in the country to analyse pro and cons of the legislation. While some have raised questions about the reservation policy, others described the government's move as nothing but an `election jumla'.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Rajya Sabha MP and CPI's national secretary D Raja to know the Opposition’s view on the legislation despite the fact that the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha with 165 in its favour and 7 against.
Mr Raja has accused the ruling party of undermining the Constitution and Parliament and its procedures to push its agenda. He said that political parties were not consulted by the government before introducing the Bill. He said that the legislation was to hoodwink people. He said the legislation may not stand judicial scrutiny due to several lacunae.
Q: What are your reservations about the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 concerning 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections, although Opposition parties voted in favour of it in Rajya Sabha?
A: It is wrong to say that all parties in the Opposition voted in favour of the Bill. I moved the motion stating that the Bill should be referred to a select committee of Parliament but it was defeated. The CPI and the Aam Aadmi Party walked out of the House. Indian Union Muslim League voted against the Bill. The AIADMK, DMK and RJD protested against it at different stages in Parliament. Even those parties which supported the Bill raised questions over the intent of the Bill. This is a constitutional Bill which will have serious implications in the long run on people. The Bill undermines the Constitution of India.
Reservation on the basis of income is against the legislative intent of the Constituent Assembly. Dr B R Ambedkar had made it clear at that time and a policy was framed for SC/ST. Then Mandal Commission identified socially and educationally backward communities and 27 per cent reservation was given to OBCs. Subsequently, the Supreme Court stated that reservation should not exceed 50 percent. The government's move to give 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections (EWS) is ambiguous. Who are the people under EWS? What is the yardstick to measure EWS category? There is no data available.
This Bill was passed in haste to hoodwink people before this year’s Lok Sabha polls. The Bill was brought after facing defeat in the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This government has been working to protect the interest of a few big Corporate houses.
Q: But the fact is that the government brought the legislation to uplift the status of economically weaker sections of upper castes other than SC/ST and OBCs.
A: A Similar attempt was made in Gujarat but the High Court struck it down. The matter is pending in Supreme Court. Efforts were made in few other states as well but people went to the court. Will this legislation stand judicial scrutiny because of several lacunae? Will it stand the social scrutiny is another question. What will be the impact of this legislation on SC/ST and OBCs? The legislation will not only open a pandora's box but also will lead to many social conflicts in the society.
Q: Do you expect a backlash in the country due to this legislation?
A: Yes. I do expect a backlash. There are no jobs or employment opportunities for people.The government is destroying Public Sector Undertakings by disinvesting in them. The government is silent on reservation in private sector because of its vested interest. It shows that the government's policy of recruitment is discriminatory in nature. In the absence of jobs, how will they implement the quota Bill?
Q: This issue had found mention in the manifesto of parties like the Congress. CPI(M) too has supported the Bill. So these parties had no choice but to support the legislation in Parliament. Your views.
A: It is for them to answer? Political parties which have supported the Bill have argued against certain provisions in the Bill during the debate in Parliament.
Q: The fact is that the government's latest legislation has managed to puncture the unity of opposition as political parties got divided. What will happen to the grand alliance of the opposition being formed to counter BJP-led NDA in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
A: It won't have any impact on the unity of the Opposition. All parties are aware of the BJP's hypocritical style of working.
Q: Is it not true that the legislation is a master-stroke of the BJP-led NDA. For example, MGNREGA helped the Congress-led UPA to return to power. The BJP insiders say that there is a fear among the opposition parties about the legislation that it will help NDA 2 to return to power in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections?
A: I do not agree. On the contrary, this will boomerang on the BJP because people have become aware of the double-speak of the BJP. The party has been completely exposed now.
Q: The road ahead for the legislation is clear now. Your views.
A: Let us see if the legislation can stand up to Judicial and social scrutiny. The Centre cannot impose its decisions on state governments under the Federal system of governance.
Q: Will this legislation be one of the agenda of opposition parties in the coming polls?
A: I don't think so. There are many more important issues which will be raised in the coming elections like the state of poor economy, crisis in agrarian and industrial sectors, farmers’ distress and lack of job opportunities. There are no jobs, then how will they implement this legislation? Prime Minister Modi promised two crore jobs but there is no data which can confirm that two crore jobs were generated.
(Published on 14th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 03)