With the Supreme Court upholding the EWS quota, the BJP and the Congress on Monday sought to claim credit for the amendment providing for it, even as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin criticised the verdict and called it a setback to the century-long social justice struggle. The apex court by a majority view of 3:2 upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitution amendment providing 10 per cent reservation to people belonging to the economically weaker sections (EWS) in admissions and government jobs. The court said the quota does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution.
The BJP lauded the Supreme Court's verdict, saying it is a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his "mission" to provide social justice to the country's poor. Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the Supreme Court's decision is a slap on the face of parties with vested interests who have tried to sow discord among citizens with their propaganda.
Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Uma Bharti welcomed the Supreme Court's decision and demanded a quota in the private sector also.
The Congress also welcomed the Supreme Court verdict but said the amendment providing for it was the result of a process initiated by the Manmohan Singh government. In a statement, Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said the Congress welcomes the Supreme Court judgment.
"The amendment itself was the result of a process initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh's government in 2005-06 with the appointment of the Sinho Commission that submitted its report in July 2010," he said. "Thereafter, widespread consultations were held and the Bill was ready by 2014. It took the Modi Sarkar five years to get the Bill enacted," the Congress leader said. Ramesh said socio-economic and caste census was completed by 2012, when he was the Union rural development minister, and the Modi government is yet to clarify its position on an updated caste census, something the Congress supports and demands.
Former Congress leader and an ex-law minister Ashwani Kumar said the majority judgment is a watershed moment in the progressive evolution of the egalitarian reach of democracy.
In a statement, he said, "In its essence, it recognises that poverty anywhere and in any class of people is the worst disabler and those afflicted by economic backwardness are entitled to the benefit of the state's affirmative action anchored in the philosophy of a welfare state."
"That even the dissenting Judges have accepted this principle is a significant constitutional development, which is in accord with the sensitivities of the people at large and adds to the richness of the judgment," Kumar said.
Parliament passed the constitutional amendment bill, brought by the BJP government, in 2019.
However, not everyone welcomed the judgment, Congress spokesperson and chairperson of the Unorganized Workers and Employees Congress Udit Raj said he does not oppose the move but the ceiling of 50 per cent imposed by a nine-judge bench has been broken with this verdict.
"For 30 years, whenever we went to the court, the Supreme Court always said this 'lakshman rekha' should not be crossed and our cases were rejected. I raise the issue of the mindset of the Supreme Court judges, these people are of a casteist mindset," Raj said, emphasising that his remarks were made in a personal capacity and had nothing to do with the Congress.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin said the Supreme Court judgment is a setback to the century-long social justice struggle.
Recalling the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's legal struggle against the reservation system brought by the central government, Stalin said, "today's judgment in this case should be considered as a setback in the century-long struggle for social justice."
However, after a thorough analysis of the judgment, legal experts would be consulted and a decision will be taken on the next step to continue the struggle against the EWS reservation, he said.
"From the land of Tamil Nadu, which made the first constitutional amendment to protect social justice, I request like-minded organisations to unite to make the voice of social justice resound throughout the country," Stalin said.
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) chief Thol. Thirumavalavan said the Supreme Court verdict is not for the poor in all castes.
"This is meant for the poor among the upper caste. In that case, how can this be construed as a judgment based on economic criteria?" he said. He pointed out that two judges have argued that caste-based economic criteria for reservation negate equality.
"The judgment is against the principles of social justice. This is gross injustice," Thirumavalavan claimed and said his party would go on an appeal challenging the verdict.
Senior TMC leader and MP Saugata Roy hailed the top court's verdict as "historic" even though its chief spokesperson Sukhendu Sekhar Ray refrained from commenting on it.