New Delhi: Fearing a political backlash, parties lined up behind the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in near unanimous support and passed the controversial quota Bill that seeks to provide reservations for scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) in government office promotions, in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
As in the case of the women’s reservation Bill, the legislation is unlikely to be passed in the Lok Sabha, where the BSP’s arch-rival, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which was the sole dissent voice in the Rajya Sabha, has threatened to block it.
With the Bill getting the Rajya Sabha nod, BSP chief Mayawati could, ahead of the 2014 general election, leverage her activist role in ensuring passage of the legislation in the House to consolidate her Dalit support base, which had visibly eroded in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. At the same time, the ruling SP seems to have taken a high risk with its stance that has alienated the Dalits.
Winning seats in the most populous state in the next general election is crucial for both regional parties, especially at a time when both national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, are likely to face a tough electoral change.
However, some political analysts say the SP, which has stakes only in Uttar Pradesh, might gain if it manages to keep the other backward classes (OBCs), the upper castes and the Muslims—which are opposing the reservation for Dalits and tribals in promotions—together in the 2014 election. Mayawati, meanwhile, is trying to keep her support base intact and to expand her political reach outside of Uttar Pradesh.
The Upper House passed the contentious Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill, 2012, with an overwhelming vote of 206 in favour in the 245-member House. Those who voted against the Bill were nine SP members and Mohammed Adeeb, an independent, among the 216 present.
This ensured the two-thirds majority that was required for a Constitution amendment Bill.
The Bill, which provides for reservation proportionate to the population of SCs and STs, was approved by the Union cabinet on 5 September against the backdrop of the Supreme Court quashing such a decision of the Uttar Pradesh government earlier this year. The Bill will now have to be passed by the Lok Sabha with a two-thirds majority and also needs the approval of the assemblies of more than half the states.
The women’s reservation Bill that seeks to provide 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies was passed by the Upper House in March 2010, but has not yet been taken up in the Lower House due to opposition from parties such as the SP. However, the ruling Congress has been trying to cash in on its electoral benefits in the state elections.
According to a senior Congress leader, the Bill is not likely to be taken up in the Lower House.
“We will not let the government take up the Bill in the Lok Sabha,” said Shailendra Kumar, an SP member of Parliament.
The SP members in the Lok Sabha disrupted proceedings, leading to repeated adjournments of the Lower House on Monday. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has threatened to review his issue-based support to the United Progressive Alliance government on the issue, asked the government to provide reservations for Muslims, too.
“Our stand on the issue remains clear. If there is any community that is suffering, it is the Muslims,” he told reporters outside Parliament.
Inside the Rajya Sabha, during a debate on the Bill, Ram Gopal Yadav, an SP leader, also intensely pitched for reservations for Muslims, a major support base of the SP, other than the Yadavs.
In Uttar Pradesh, around 1.5 million government employees have been on strike since 14 December against the Bill.
Badri Narayan, a UP-based analyst specializing in Dalit affairs and politics, said, “The SP is going to gain by consolidating the upper castes and OBC votes against Dalits, and Mayawati has spoiled her entire exercise on rainbow coalition (of Dalits, Brahmins, OBCs and Muslims) with which she had won in 2007.”
Pointing out that Mayawati is trying to expand her horizon among the Dalits across the country, Narayan said the BSP chief will try to take advantage of it in the next general election.