Ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections, the Union cabinet on Monday introduced a controversial bill in Parliament, seeking to provide 10% reservation to economically backward members among the 'general category' in government higher education institutes and jobs. And although parties like the Congress have termed the proposal an “election stunt” even as they support the quota for economically weaker sections, in Tamil Nadu, opinion is divided over the Modi government’s move.
The state which is deeply divided along caste lines has a 69% reservation in place for socially disadvantaged groups. This is against even the Supreme Court order from 1992 which said that reservations beyond 50% will be against article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution but is protected from judicial review by the Ninth Schedule. And now with the Centre proposing further reservations based on economic status, the AIADMK is willing to hear out the Centre while DMK and VCK term the move an electoral gimmick that won't withstand legal scrutiny.
"Tabling such a bill in 11th hour in Parliament certainly raises questions regarding the Centre's intent," admits, AIADMK spokesperson Satyan Rajan. "But it is too early to jump to a conclusion. We are looking to study the proposal completely before taking a stand on the matter. If there are weaker sections of the society that will be benefited by this bill, we must discuss it," he adds.
The AIADMK is, however, mindful of the Congress' strong presence in the Rajya Sabha and points out it is unlikely to pass if opposed, due to the lack of numbers.
The DMK and VCK, two Dravidian parties whose ideology is based on opposing caste hierarchy, however, point out that the proposal is unconstitutional.
"There is no constitutional mechanism to provide reservation for economically backward people and the Supreme Court has made that clear in the past," says A Sarvanan, DMK spokesperson, quoting the Indira Sawhney case. When hearing the 1992 case, the apex court said that such quotas cannot be provided for poverty alone. It has to be poverty plus social and educational backwardness and the backwardness should reflect historic injustice through generations. "The BJP is aware that this proposal won't stand legal scrutiny and will face severe opposition in Parliament. This is basically a desperate effort on their end to maintain an upper caste vote bank," he adds.
The VCK further points out that if anybody protest this bill, it should be the forward castes.
"This is fraud on people of the forward caste just to retain votes. They are deceiving these people for political gains through divisional methods," says the party's general secretary D Ravikumar. "Also, changing criteria of reservation from social to economic shows that the BJP is attempting to abolish caste-based reservation. This was their plan all along anyway. But attempts to tamper with the Constitution won't work."