The bill, being viewed as an attempt by the BJP to placate its angry upper-caste voters ahead of the polls, was passed with a 323-3 margin.
New Delhi: The Lok Sabha Tuesday passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, which provides 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions for economically weaker sections of the upper castes. The final voting margin was 323-3, suggesting how the NDA government’s gambit caught the opposition parties on the wrong foot.
Opposition parties supported the bill, but termed it a “political gimmick” and an “election stunt” by the BJP, attacking the government over its failure to create jobs. Some parties, such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, advocated reservation in proportion with the population of different castes and communities, and demanded a caste census to find out the exact proportion.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) opposed the bill, with its leader Asaduddin Owaisi terming the bill a “fraud” on the Constitution. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) staged a walkout.
The Winter Session, which ends Wednesday, is the last full session of Parliament under this government, and the bill — being viewed as an attempt by the BJP to placate its angry upper-caste voters ahead of the general elections — was brought in by the government at the very last minute.
With the Rajya Sabha being extended by a day, the bill is expected to be taken up in the Upper House Wednesday.
What the parties said
Defending the bill on behalf of the BJP-led government, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the bill wouldn’t affect the existing quotas and would be over and above the current 50 per cent reservation pool.
“Many have pointed out that if this reservation of 10 per cent is introduced, it would impact the cap of 50 per cent (placed) by the Supreme Court. Many Congress leaders have also tweeted this. I can say clearly that this cap was in relation to caste-based reservation, whether in educational institutions or public employment,” he said.
“Just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequals cannot be treated equally,” Jaitley added, saying reservations were brought in to uplift those who were denied equality on the basis of birth. “The same way, people who are economically deprived are also lagging behind and the government wants to uplift them,” he said.
The Congress, meanwhile, said while it supported the bill, it felt it was being pushed through in a hurry.
“We support this quota bill, we are not against this. But the way it is being brought in raises questions on your sincerity. My request is to send this to Joint Parliamentary Committee first,” said Congress MP K.V. Thomas.
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose Lok Janshakti Party is part of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), said the pre-poll promise of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ was complete now.
“People who were opposing reservation are now part of this 10 per cent reservation. So now, they won’t oppose reservation,” he said.
Paswan also made three demands: For the bill to be put it in the Ninth Schedule so that it can’t be challenged in the courts, for reservation to be provided in the private sector, and for reservation in the Indian judicial service.
Opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), BJP allies like Shiv Sena, as well as seemingly neutral parties like the Biju Janata Dal, supported the bill.
While some extended their support with suggestions, others questioned the intent behind bringing the bill so close to polls.
“Will the bill actually solve the problem of unemployment or this is just a political gimmick? Why does the government not take up the Women’s Reservation Bill with the same priority as this quota bill?” asked TMC’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay.
The AIADMK warned that this bill would be struck down by the apex court.
“There are so many government schemes to uplift the economically weaker sections. Therefore, this economic criteria in reservations is not needed. PM Modi promised Rs 15 lakh in each account. Had he implemented it, there would be no need for this bill,” AIADMK’s M. Thambi Durai said.
ThePrint’s YouTube channel is now active and buzzing. Please subscribe here.