Udaipur, May 14 (PTI) The Congress deliberated on wide-ranging reforms on the second day of its Chintan Shivir here on Saturday with the party set to unveil big-ticket changes including providing 50 per cent representation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and minorities at all levels in the organisation as part of its social engineering efforts.
Seeking to win back the support of weaker sections of the society, the party is also thinking about demanding reservation for SC, ST and OBCs in the private sector, reservation for OBCs in Parliament and assemblies, and a quota within quota for SC, ST and other backward classes (OBCs) in the Women’s Reservation Bill.
Expressing “extreme concern” over the state of the economy, the party called for a reset of economic policies while taking into account global and domestic developments, over 30 years after a Congress-led government ushered in an era of liberalisation.
Addressing a press conference here, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram called for a comprehensive review of fiscal relations between the Centre and the states and demanded that the GST compensation to states be extended for a period of three years.
Chidambaram, who is the convener of the group deliberating on economic issues at the Congress’s three-day ‘Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir’, said the government has completely failed on the economic front and is clueless on how to set things right.
The Congress also called for enacting a law guaranteeing minimum support price (MSP) for crops and said its aim is to ensure that farmers are “debt-free”.
Senior Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the party would strongly oppose any move by the government to bring back through the “back door” the three farm laws that were repealed earlier.
Hooda, who is the convener of the group deliberating on agriculture and farmers’ issues at the shivir, said key issues before the committee included a law for guaranteeing MSP to farmers, climate change’s effect on agriculture, “poor” implementation of the government’s crop insurance scheme and institutional credit investment.
There is also a proposal to demand setting up of a national farm debt relief commission to suggest ways and solve debt-related grievances of farmers through conciliation and negotiation as done in the case of industrial loans, Hooda told reporters.
Addressing a media briefing on the deliberations of the panel on social justice and empowerment formed by party chief Sonia Gandhi to lead discussions on this issue, senior leader and former Union minister Salman Khurshid said establishing a social justice advisory council to the Congress president has also been recommended by the panel.
There will be an attached department that will collect data for social engineering and will make it available for Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) and other party units, said Khurshid, who is the convenor of the panel on social justice and empowerment.
In a change in stance on quota within quota in the women’s reservation bill, the party is likely to demand that out of the reservation for women in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies, there should be proportionate reservation for SC, ST and OBC women.
K Raju, a panel member and coordinator to oversee the activities of the Congress’ SC/OBC/Minority Departments, said the party’s constitution as of now provides for 20 per cent reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities.
“The group has discussed and decided that in the short run we must step up this to 50 per cent. Fifty per cent reservation in all the committees starting with booth committees, block committees, district committees, PCCs and the CWC, be provided,” he said.
There is a view from some of the participants that we need to go beyond 50 per cent but members felt that let us step it up first from 20 per cent to 50 per cent, he said.
“The group has debated at length the issue related to caste-based census of OBCs and all other communities. The group has strongly recommended that the Congress has to demand and express its commitment to caste-based census,” he said.
Raju said that there was a discussion in the panel on the Women’s Reservation Bill and it has been recommended that the party should push for “quota within quota”.
Out of the reservation provided for women, there should be proportionate reservation for SC, ST, OBC women, Raju said.
Asked why there was a U-turn in its stand as when the UPA government passed the women reservation bill in Rajya Sabha, it had resisted quota within quota, Khurshid said, “Sometimes you have to push legislations strategically, we were committed to a quota for women and the problem with the quota within a quota was that we had assumed there would not be easy agreement and consensus on that and the result would be we would lose out on reservation for women at that stage.” “Therefore, a conscious strategic decision was taken that let us get the quota first then we will see about further segmentation. Now we have lost a lot of time and politics has also undergone a significant change since then and we believe that now is the right time to make it clear where you stand,” Khurshid said.
He said the party stands for women’s participation in a fulsome manner so that women from all categories should be able to participate.
“We don’t want anyone to believe that there is a hidden agenda that you bring in women but you bring in women that find it easy to get elected. Therefore, after thoughtful inputs we came to the conclusion that we recommend to CWC that now the time has come to take the bull by horns and make sure we get quota within quota all pushed in one go,” Khurshid said.
“There is no inconsistency, we have moved on from that position where we felt strategically that the quota should come first,” he added.
Responding to another question on the party’s change in stance on quota within quota, senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kumari Selja said, “There was never any objection to this (quota within quota). At that time there was a coalition government and it was difficult to take everyone together.
The Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2010 but the UPA government could not take it forward due to strong opposition from parties such as the SP, RJD and JD(U) that had demanded ‘quota within quota’ for SC, ST, OBCs and minorities in the bill.
Another important issue the group has deliberated and is in the process of recommending is the reservation in the private sector for the SC, ST and OBCs because the jobs in the public sector are coming down, Raju said.
He said the policy for providing for reservation for OBCs in state legislatures and Parliament was also deliberated upon and the group is inclined to recommend reservation for OBCs in assemblies and Parliament.
In the first press conference of the day on the deliberations at the Shivir, Chidambaram alleged that the government is fuelling inflation and asserted that the fiscal position of states is fragile and urgent remedial measures were needed.
The Congress leader said the external situation has added to the pressures on the economy. “The government appears clueless on the ways to deal with these developments,” he said.
Chidambaram dismissed the government’s claim that the Ukraine-Russia war has fuelled inflation, saying the rise in oil prices cannot be blamed for the high inflation as a similar situation prevailed even before the war.
The discussions at the ‘Chintan Shivir’, which began on Friday, will conclude on the morning of the third day and the conclusions will be recorded in the form of a declaration. A draft of the declaration will be discussed at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to be held here on the last day of the conclave Sunday. PTI ASK/SKC ZMN
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