New Delhi: The Congress-led coalition government has reinforced its efforts to win the backing of Mualayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) for the Indo-US nuclear deal by unveiling job sops for the main voter base of the SP, which holds the key to its survival in office.
The Union cabinet decided on Thursday to fill the backlog of vacancies reserved for the so-called Other Backward Castes, or OBCs, by treating them as a “separate and distinct” group, not subject to the statutory limit of 50% job reservations in a year.
The OBCs constitute a huge voting block for the SP, an alliance which could help the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) overcome the loss of Leftist support over the nuclear deal and keep it in office.
“Filling up the backlog of OBC jobs has been our demand and we are happy with it, though we do not know if the government did this to please us,” said Abu Azmi, an SP member of parliament.
Though SP chief Yadav on Friday denied having been approached by anyone from the Congress for support on the nuclear deal, he reiterated that “we will make our position clear on 3 July when the United National Progressive Alliance or UNPA meets”.
UNPA, or the United National Progressive Alliance, a group of eight regional parties, is also known as the third front of which the SP is the main constituent. Speculation has arisen that the SP might break with the group and support the UPA government over the nuclear deal issue.
Azmi however, said: “We have not decided which way we will go. The decision will be taken irrespective of whether we have to break with the UNPA.”
GVL Narasimha Rao, political analyst and Mint columnist, said the UNPA would be as good as dead without the SP. “The SP is the fulcrum of that group. If it leaves, the UNPA will fall like a pack of cards ... most parties in the formation cannot dictate terms to the SP and have no political standing.”
Another member of the grouping, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), said it would not attend the UNPA meeting because its leaders are engaged in a 50-day rally across Andhra Pradesh.
Top leaders of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) claimed that they were no longer a part of the UNPA.
The Congress, meanwhile, dismissed suggestions that the cabinet decision on OBC jobs was politically motivated.
“We have not taken this decision to appease the SP. This is a constitutional decision since it is the right of the OBCs to get the jobs that have been pending. About one lakh jobs are expected to be created because of this decision,” said K.C. Lenka, chairman of the Congress’ OBC department. Of these 1 lakh jobs, 28,670 will be in the railways alone.
Azmi said the SP will continue to oppose the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to set a quota for women to contest Lok Sabha elections.
The bill, which was scheduled to be presented in the budget session of parliament, was held up due to opposition from parties like the SP and Rashtriya Janata Dal, which demanded reservations for OBCs, Dalits and Muslims within the proposed quota.
The Congress leadership, in its efforts to warm up to the SP, also appears to have agreed to a sub-quota “formula” within the Women’s Reservation Bill, according to a source close to the matter.
A meeting of the Congress general secretaries is scheduled for Saturday. The party also said it is still trying not to burn all its bridge with the Left. “There is still another meeting with the Left,” Shakeel Ahmad, Congress spokesman, said on Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org
K.P. Narayana Kumar and PTI contributed to this story