Quota politics — a level up

Ram Vilas Paswan, Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief, believes that the “masterstroke” of 10 per cent quota for EWS from upper caste will assure the NDA its second term at the Centre

Mukesh Ranjan in New Delhi

The NDA has fielded Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan to give political legitimacy to the government’s initiative of providing 10 per cent quota to the economically weaker sections (EWS) among the general category people. This is on account of the BJP not having a Dalit face to do the same job. 

Paswan claims that the amendment is a masterstroke that will give Narendra Modi his second term as the Prime Minister. Excerpts from the interview...

What was your first reaction to the passage of 124th Constitution (Amendment) Bill-2019, providing 10 per cent quota to EWS persons belonging to the unreserved category, by Parliament?

It is a historical decision. This fulfils the long-pending demand of a large section of poor people in the country. Even during agitations, which I had always been a part of, we were always in favour of giving reservation to the needy. I welcome it and thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his courage and vision.

Don’t you think that it was a disruptive move on the part of the Modi government vis-a-vis the quota politics in the country?

It is wrong to say so. Positive discrimination is always based on the backwardness of the different sections of society. Earlier, it was on the basis of social and educational deprivation. Now the government has added a new criterion — economic. All those initiatives over the years — from the making of the Constitution to the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations to the recent ones — were aimed at making people feel empowered and happy.     

How do you justify reservation for upper-caste Hindus, as they had historically benefited from caste hierarchy?

They may be at an advantage in the social hierarchy, but over the years, economic upheavals have made them suffer too. Therefore, they needed support to climb up the economic ladder. This will bring about harmony in society.

How do you see Opposition leaders’ reaction over the passage of the Bill?

Their criticism is similar to jealousy among fishermen when they realise one of them has netted a big fish. Opposition parties are envious of Narendra Modi over this big political measure. They don’t know how to react. Many of them are questioning it, but are feeling bound to support it. 

What do you have to say about the claims made by a few Opposition leaders that the move will harm the interest of the poor belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs)?

The present reservation is over and above the existing quota provided to those belonging to the SCs, the STs and the OBC category. In case of the SCs and  the STs, there is no economic threshold to avail the reservation. Leaders who are a product of social-justice plank, including me or for that matter, Mayawati or Lalu Prasad Yadav, must realise that support of upper-caste voters, have, too helped them rise in their political careers. I appeal to all party leaders to support the move in the interest of the nation.

Will the government be able to defend the law once the provisions of it will be scrutinised in the court of law?

Yes, definitely. The government has taken care of all possibilities of the Bill being challenged in the court. However, if need be, the government will not hesitate to put it in the 9th Schedule of Constitution, which largely protects a law from judicial scrutiny. At the time of implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations, we tried to incorporate EWS category for upper caste, but the then Attorney General told us that under Article 16(4), there was no provision for providing quota on an economic basis. 

Subsequently, even the Supreme Court had asked under which section the government would create EWS category. But, now as the Constitution has been amended and sections have been added, I don’t think the Supreme Court should object to it.  

What is your response to the criticism that the move has come with an eye on elections? It has the potential to help the BJP and other NDA constituents in the upcoming General Election.

The government and political parties are there to serve public and make efforts for its prosperity. If people are happy about the government’s decision, they will support us. What is wrong with this! I am confident that the NDA will come back to power under the leadership of PM  Modi.

Now, when the uncovered segment has also been covered under the quota scheme, don’t you think that the time has come to extend the quota to the private sector?

People say jobs have been shrinking in the public sector. If this is the emerging situation, it can be worked out. For this to happen, all stakeholders, including political parties, have to be consulted. If everybody agrees to the proposition, there should not be any problem in going ahead with it. 

As the proposed law fixes a threshold of Rs 8 lakh annual household income to avail the quota facility, don’t you think that even a taxpayer would be bracketed as EWS?

I have not gone into the details. This matter pertains to the Finance Ministry. I have nothing to say on this.

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