The show of strength by Bhim Army, a Dalit organisation, will be a cause for worry for not just PM Narendra Modi but also BSP chief Mayawati.
New Delhi: Delhi, the epicentre of the anti-Mandal protests in 1990, looks set for another round of anti-quota agitations — this time against the 10 per cent reservation for ‘poor’ general category candidates in government jobs and educational institutions.
The Bhim Army, a Dalit organisation, is preparing to bring at least one lakh people to the national capital next month to demand the scrapping of the so-called upper castes quota.
Chandrashekhar Azad, the chief of the Bhim Army who has been drawing impressive crowds even outside Uttar Pradesh, where the outfit is based, will undertake a 200-km ‘rath yatra’ from Saharanpur to Delhi, stretched over several days for the mobilisation of Dalits en route.
The yatra is likely to start around 10 February, although the nitty gritty is still being worked out.
“My programme (rath yatra) is against the 10 per cent reservation, 13-point roster (department-wise reservation in faculty recruitment in universities and colleges) and implementation of reservation in the private sector,” Azad told ThePrint. “The 10 per cent quota is not constitutional.”
The Samvidhan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, an umbrella body of organisations claiming to represent the interests of Dalits and OBCs, will also hold a march from Mandi House to Parliament on 31 January, the first day of the Budget session.
At a convention of this forum in New Delhi Tuesday, Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, Rajendra Pal Gautam of the Aam Aadmi Party, and the Independent MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mevani, among others, extended their support for the march, demanding the scrapping of the 10 per cent quota, which they called unconstitutional, and the 13-point roster system.
The two marches in the national capital may not match the 1990 protests against OBC reservation in terms of magnitude, but they could give fresh impetus to quota politics, especially as the political class is sharply divided on the NDA government’s poll gambit.
Turning tables on NDA
Although political rallies and demonstrations are a routine affair in the national capital, with many of them passing off virtually unnoticed, these marches could resonate across the country, given the sensitivity of the issue in a poll season.
Mainstream parties were taken by surprise by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s quota decision earlier this month, and forced to support the enabling bill in Parliament as they didn’t want to be seen opposing reservation for the poor among non-reserved-category people.
Parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which rely on Dalit and backward-identity politics, supported the legislation grudgingly, even as they sought to please their constituencies by voicing their oft-repeated demand for the implementation of “jiski jitani sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari (reservation proportionate to the population)”.
As the general elections draw near, such parties have been laying the ground to turn the tables on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by projecting its upper-caste quota gambit as anti-Dalit and anti-backward classes.
Tejashwi Yadav has called the NDA government’s move a “conspiracy” against the reservation system (for SCs/STs/ OBCs), citing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s demand for its review.
Sensing unease and apprehension among SCs and OBCs, large sections of whom had voted for him in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly making clarifications in his speeches that the 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS) does not eat into their share.
It is in this backdrop that Azad’s rath yatra from Saharanpur to Delhi assumes significance.
The Dalit turf war
One leader who would be most affected by Azad’s attempt to mobilise the Dalits against the general-category quota is BSP chief Mayawati.
She hasn’t been vocal on this issue and the Bhim Army’s aggressive stand would put her on a sticky wicket.
Azad has extended support to the SP-BSP alliance for the Lok Sabha elections, but he is fast emerging as an alternative pole for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, especially the youth.
The Dalit Samaj wanted Azad to let Behenji have her last go at the Prime Minister’s post this time and so he has supported her, but he will review his strategy after the Lok Sabha elections, said a Bhim Army office-bearer.
The Bhim Army’s rath yatra could, therefore, compel the BSP to review its stand on the EWS quota and also trigger a shriller position on this issue by many other parties.
The quota issue gaining fresh momentum in the run-up to the elections could muddy the waters for the BJP, which would like the polls to be centred on Modi, his persona and his achievements.