Political fissures surfaced just a day after the Supreme Court stayed a new law allowing 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in institutions of higher education.
Initial reactions of widespread support to reservation for OBCs gave way to divergent stances conforming more to party lines.
While the parties representing OBCs criticized the apex court’s interim order and called for an urgent redressal mechanism, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading opposition party, preferred to merely reiterate its commitment to reservation in principle.
Analysts said that with the crucial assembly polls beginning in Uttar Pradesh on 7 April, neither the Congress party nor the BJP could afford to alienate their upper-caste voters. It could explain why, unlike the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Left parties, both the Congress and BJP refrained from criticizing the apex court’s order.
B.G. Verghese, an analyst with the think tank Centre for Policy Research, said parties across the political spectrum were merely pandering to their vote banks. “There was no reason for the HRD ministry to hasten the process, without adequately preparing its case,” he said. “The stay is in no way discriminatory against the genuinely backward, because reservation will only benefit the fat cats among the creamy layer of the OBCs,” he added.
Human resource development minister Arjun Singh’s office said the government was exploring all legal options. Elaborating on BJP’s stand, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a spokesperson of the party, said, “We are not party to this government’s failure to present its case before the judiciary. The stay is an indictment of the government’s capacity as well as credibility. So much so that the proposed reservation, supported by all parties, became suspect in the eyes of the court.”
Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, of DMK, dashed off letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and requested them to convene both Houses of Parliament immediately to discuss the quota issue.
The appeal came a day before DMK and its coalition allies planned to observe a state-wide bandh over the issue. D. Raja, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, concurred, saying, “Parliament should intervene” in the matter. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), advised the government to “consult all parties to overcome the SC stay”.
Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan said the upcoming polls in UP were surely a factor for the Congress and BJP. “That’s because, unlike the Mandal commission, there are no clear political beneficiaries in this round of reservation,” he said. “But there’s an even larger tussle ahead, between the executive and the judiciary. And the ball is in the court of the executive.”