New Delhi: Keeping with its populist rhetoric, the Congress party is promising reservations for communities as its key electoral offering in the states heading to polls in the next two years, including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka.
Analysts believe this to be a desperate gamble, especially given that playing the populist card in the recent past has not worked for the party—though, to be sure, it was the key to its back-to-back victories in the 14th and 15th general elections.
After its humiliating defeat in the 16th general election, the Congress had, ahead of the election to the Maharashtra assembly, brought in an ordinance to provide reservations for Marathas (16%) and Muslims (5%). But it was routed at the polls.
“The promise of reservation fits into the Congress’ idea of inclusive growth and, hence, inclusive politics. People’s aspirations have increased and so have the numbers of educated youths in marginalized social groups and economically weaker sections. Our focus on reservation stems from this,” a senior party leader said requesting anonymity.
On Saturday, the Congress announced it will provide a quota within the quota for the most backward classes (MBCs) in Uttar Pradesh, if elected. The decision came after MBC leaders met party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
On the same day in Bengaluru, Karnataka chief minister K. Siddaramaiah said the state is mulling an increase in the ceiling on reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in education and employment beyond 50%, based on the population.
While the party believes the promise of quotas will strike a chord among the socially and economically disenfranchised, a section within believes these decisions lack thought.
“Reservation is a very sensitive issue. The problem right now is the top leadership is approaching it on a case to case basis. Each state leadership is deciding it on its own and placing a request to the central leadership. Unless we have a more centralized, common view, it may become problematic for us,” a senior party functionary said requesting anonymity.
In Gujarat, too, the party has promised an increase in reservation in jobs and college admissions for economically backward sections who do not belong to any disadvantaged social category.
On similar lines, Captain Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab, said last month that if his party came to power in the state, it will provide “reservations to the economically weaker sections from the general category”, without disturbing the existing caste-based reservation system.
Senior party leaders from both Gujarat and Punjab said they are going to make this a key election issue and highlight it in their party campaigns. Interestingly, the Congress is out of power in both the states as well as Uttar Pradesh.
“Recent political history shows key political parties have used the promise or announcement of reservations to increase electoral presence. There is definitely desperation in the Congress, which is down and out and wants to try all the strategies to brighten their prospects in the coming polls. The promise of reservation continues to have a scattered impact and is attractive to a section of voters if not for everyone,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
PTI contributed to the story.