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Is Modi government playing with fire with the Savarna Reservation?

Arti Ghargi

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We have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster.

 

On Monday, the Modi cabinet raised the heat amidst the ongoing winter session of parliament by clearing 10% reservation for the economically weaker upper castes. The cabinet decided to amend the Constitution so that the “economically backward” upper castes will get 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

As the news took over the TV screens and print columns, it was projected as a “Master Stroke” by the Modi government. Some even called it a “Surgical Strike” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Considering the Savarna backlash that the government received over the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (amendment) act, this might have been a last-ditch attempt by the ruling BJP to save its Upper Caste voters. Incidentally, the upper caste Hindus are its core vote banks. Thus, this move was being seen as vote bank motivated.

The question, however, remains whether it is actually effective or ground? Whether it will pay the electoral dividends the party is hoping for? Will the move achieve consolidation of both, Dalit and Savarna voters in favour of BJP?

BJP may hope the answer is in affirmative. But a quick scanning of pages of India’s political history can easily tell that it is otherwise. On the contrary, we have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster in the immediate elections.

Karpoori Thakur:

Karpoori Thakur was the first political leader to have felt the heat on the ballot box due to his decisions regarding the reservation policies. The socialist leader who was Bihar’s first non-Congress Chief minister first introduced the reservation for the economically backward upper castes in the country. His decision was based on the findings of the Mungeri Lal Commission. This commission had suggested a total 26% reservation in the state, of which 20% were for the OBC, 3% for the women of any background and 3% reservation for the poor Savarnas.

Karpoori Thakur decided to implement the reservation formula in Bihar in November 1978. However, he decided to divide the OBC category into two other sub-categories for the distribution of quotas, i.e. Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Backward Class (BC). While EBC were allotted 12% quota, BC was allotted 8%.

Electorally, it proved to be disastrous for the leader. He had to endure major upper caste backlash for this move. Within a week, he had to vacate the CM chair. The reservation policy he introduced is popularly known as “Karpoori Thakur Formula”. The policy was halted in 1992-93 until the Supreme Court quashed it. However, with the Modi government’s new reservation card, the demand for implementing the formula in government jobs and educational opportunities has started gaining pace in Bihar.

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VP Singh:

Who can forget the political debacle VP Singh brought upon himself by announcing the implementation of Mandal commission report. Not only the country burned for months following violent protests but the controversial move proved to be a fatal blow to VP Singh’s political career.

In August 1990, seven years after the Mandal Commission report on the identification of OBC’s based on 11 parameters, VP Singh in his independence day address declared his intention of implementing the commission’s suggestions. The report proposed OBCs to be given 27% reservation making the total number of reservation go up to 49%.

This move sparked a series of student protest. The Self-immolation committed by more than 50 students across the country and suicide attempts by more than 100 people marked the end of the VP Singh’s minority government. Just 11 months after he took oath as the Prime Minister, VP Singh had to step down and was succeeded by Chandra Shekhar.

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Bhupinder Huda:

Having witnessed the fire sparked by the controversial reservation policies, Congress (UPA) for most of its term kept the reservation off its priority. Until 2014, when it made a last-ditch attempt to win the election, touched the reservation issue.

On the face of elections, Congress proposed to include Jats in Other Backward Class category. The Jat reservation only resulted in violent protests and hartals in the state. The Supreme Court eventually rejected it. The Congress, as we know, was reduced to only 1 seat.

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Prithviraj Chavan:

The Congress-NCP coalition government in the state of Maharashtra too followed the suite off Haryana government. The Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government announced 16% reservation for the Marathas who have been demanding reservation since long. The move did not prove much fruitful as the coalition had to face dismal numbers in the immediate assembly election.

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These and many other cases in the past prove that any decision with regards to the reservation is equal to playing with fire. Thus, it begs a question whether the Modi government has learnt the time and again tested lesson provided by Indian Politics. With the recent decision, it seems it hasn’t or perhaps, it has chosen to ignore it.

Will it turn out to be political suicide for Modi government as well? Or will he be successful in breaking the jinx?

Opinion

Don’t need Congress, SP-BSP strong enough to defeat BJP in UP: Kiranmoy Nanda

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SP-BSP

Kolkata | Samajwadi Party (SP) national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda on Sunday said his party, together with the BSP, is strong enough to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming general election and there is no need of an “insignificant” force like the Congress to make it happen.

He, however, hinted that the SP-BSP alliance might just leave aside the Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies, represented in the Lok Sabha by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi respectively.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is an insignificant force, so we are not even thinking of including or excluding it. The SP-BSP alliance is the main force which will take on the BJP. The Congress might be there in one or two seats, it is for the Congress to decide what position it wishes to see itself in,” Nanda told PTI in an interview.

His comments came two days after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav moved closer to finalise a seat-sharing formula, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Both the leaders held a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Nanda felt the Congress was yet to adjust to the mantra of “alliance politics” as it was unwilling to “leave even an inch to its allies in states where it is strong, but expects others to share their pound of flesh with it in states where it is a weak force”.

Asked whether keeping the Congress out of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh would be an advantage for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, “From our past experiences, we can say, in cases where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP alliance, we did not face any problem in defeating the BJP. The Congress’s vote share is completely insignificant.

“Rather there have been instances where the Congress had not put up its candidate in a seat and the BJP got its vote share.”

Nanda cited the examples of the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP nominees, but that did not deter the alliance from defeating the BJP.

Referring to the recently-held Assembly polls in five states, he said had the Congress worked out an alliance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP would have faced a complete ouster in the two states.

“Did the Congress go for a pre-poll alliance with the SP-BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? The answer is no. The Congress’s policy is it will take benefits from everybody, but when it gets an opportunity, it does not want to share it with others,” Nanda said.

The former fisheries minister of West Bengal during the Left Front regime asserted that the SP-BSP alliance would be a “gamechanger” in the general election in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“Going by the current situation, it is clear that the SP-BSP alliance will sweep Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP will be ousted. The SP will play a vital role in the next government formation at the Centre, but we are not in the prime ministerial race,” he maintained.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, along with its allies, had secured 73 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, whereas the SP had won five and the Congress just two seats.

Nanda also refuted the claims that Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) might play a spoilsport for the SP-BSP alliance in the Hindi heartland state.

“New parties crop up prior to the Lok Sabha polls in politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh, but they fail to create any impact,” he asserted.

Talking about the choice of prime ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, Nanda said the matter would be decided on the basis of consensus after the polls.

“We are not averse to anyone for the prime minister’s post but that issue will be decided after the polls, following a discussion with all the parties,” he added.

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Opinion

Is “Pliable” offensive because Rahul Gandhi said it?

Arti Ghargi

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pliable

As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means.

 

Many of our journalists on ever-buzzing Indian Twitter are outraging over the word “Pliable”. For those who are completely unaware of how this fairly innocuous-seeming word offended many of my colleagues, let me give you a brief background.

It was on Thursday that Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a press conference sought to take a swipe at Prime Minister Modi’s interview with ANI editor Smita Prakash as being “staged” and lampooning the interviewer as “Pliable”. His remarks were followed by a prompt rebuttal by the ANI chief calling it a “Cheap Shot” and “downright absurd”. “Not expected of a president of the oldest political party in the country,” she tweeted. Many journalists and even politicians (read BJP leaders) came out in her support and slammed Rahul Gandhi for his comments.

“The Grandson of the ‘Emergency dictator’ displays his real DNA – attacks and intimidates an independent Editor,” tweeted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Adding a question on the silence of “pseudo-liberals” (Wait. The Irony just died). On the other hand, many others disagreed and saw nothing wrong with Rahul Gandhi’s comment. As the debate around “Pliable” heated, the IT cells of both parties aided their respective sides by releasing interview videos of Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi- which is supposed to be a commentary on how certain journalists suck up to the rival parties and what “Pliable” journalism looks like.

As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means. According to Google, Pliable means easily bent; flexible or easily influenced. The Cambridge dictionary elaborates a little more- (often disapproving) A pliable person is easily influenced and controlled by other people. Now, going by the literal meaning of the word, it is hardly offensive. But as what’s offensive or what’s not is subjective, let us consider for a moment that it was indeed offensive to some. But the subjective cannot be selective.

Was it a standalone incident where politicians indulged in name calling? Hell No! Many journalists on regular basis are subjected to uncivilized criticism just for doing their job. The range of cuss words used to discredit journalists and their work is innumerable. Not to mention the few which you would see in very often which degrade the standard of public discourse. I am sure many of us have been called “Presstitute, Dalal, Baazaru” and what not. And while Mr Jaitley is busy pointing fingers at Rahul Gandhi. Here is how his own cabinet colleague described the journalists as:

 Not to forget the Modi interview to Smita Prakash in which he terms some journalists as “News Traders”.

Now, after the furore, Editors Guild and other journalistic bodies stepped in and condemned Rahul Gandhi for “words” used by him to criticise the ANI chief. Though it wasn’t a standalone case of politicians name-calling journalists, in this particular case the guild stepped in. The promptness is definitely noteworthy.

In the next few lines, the guild raises the question on the objectionable language used by senior BJP leaders and AAP leaders to criticise the journalists and media at large in the past. This condemnation in retrospect hardly seems genuine and comes across as an effort to escape the whataboutery. The guild says that journalists aren’t immune to the civil criticism. Going by this statement, Pliable is more civil than “Presstitute”, “Dalal” or “Baazaru”.

So what was the outrage for? Was it really because of the use of word Pliable? If it is so, why the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy calling journalists “News Traders” doesn’t incite such response? Or was the outrage because it was Rahul Gandhi who said it. Which then means two things: either the fraternity thinks they do not merit criticism from Rahul Gandhi (or any politician, for that matter) or Rahul Gandhi is too civil in his conduct that we as journalists don’t expect him to use such words. The standard for judging Rahul Gandhi is higher than it is for his contemporaries.

In my opinion, politicians should be the last ones criticizing the journalists. But should they be barred from criticizing the media completely? Not at all. But if we are to condemn them for their comments the ground should be the same for every politician.

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Opinion

Nitin Gadkari: Changing Face of Aspiration

Arti Ghargi

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gadkari

The only reason why Nitin Gadkari is openly rebelling against the Modi-Shah duo without inviting any strict action is a strong RSS backing.

 

“I will never be a PM candidate nor will I topple anybody. Modi has good potential to be BJP president and PM,” said Nitin Gadkari with a static face. The rumours had it that Nitin Gadkari has shown strong objection to Modi being made the PM candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party. And why wouldn’t anybody believe it given the edgy relation that the two shared? But his statement in an interview during a 2012 conclave organized by a mainline news channel put the rumours at rest. The statement also meant that the last obstacle between Modi and the PM Chair was cleared.

After the BJP’s landslide victory in 2014-most of which was credited to the “Modi Wave”-Nitin Gadkari was made the Minister of Highways and Road Transport and was given the charge of Shipping Ministry in the Modi cabinet. By this time Nitin Gadkari had already stepped down from party presidency and Modi’s close aide had taken over the reins of BJP from his predecessor Rajnath Singh. For the next four years after 2014, the entire BJP began revolving around the centralised leadership of Modi-Shah. The possibility of an alternative to Modi within BJP was considered laughable.

gadkari

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But four years later, the same possibility seems closer to reality. The undisputed rule of the Modi-Shah duo has been challenged and it comes from none but BJP’s senior guard Nitin Gadkari.  And there are ample reasons to believe that.

Dissention between Modi and Gadkari:

“You can’t win elections only because you speak well. You might be a vidwan (learned) but people may not vote for you,” said Gadkari at an event in Delhi this week. It doesn’t take a political genius to understand to whom was it aimed. The buzz in Delhi’s political circle hints at Nitin Gadkari as a Prime Minister instead of Modi in 2019 and going by the recent headline-making statements, Gadkari has already started building the hype.

One may wonder, why would he remain low-profile for over four years and now suddenly emerge to give nightmares to Modi-Shah. However, the fact that there always was a sort of power tussle between Modi and Gadkari got washed away in the post-2014 Modi Wave.

Gadkari

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The first out-in the public uneasiness of Modi and Gadkari was witnessed back in 2012 when Sanjay Joshi, a Modi adversary caused turbulence in the BJP camp. It was Nitin Gadkari, the then president of the BJP who brought Joshi back in the picture after he was forced out in 2005. Gadkari not only planned to make him the party coordinator for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election but also saw that he was inducted into the party’s national executive. For Narendra Modi, who was then emerging as a development-driven leader, Joshi’s induction came as a threat from Gadkari.  After the party failed in the 2012 UP elections, Modi made his move.

He remained adamant on his demand to sack Sanjay Joshi from national executive otherwise he would boycott a national meeting of the BJP to be held in Mumbai and quit the party. Already suffering from the resistance of partymen, Gadkari ceded to the demand. As a result, Modi too supported Gadkari being given the second term as a party president.

gadkari

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But the cold war between them never ended. In a Caravan article, Son of the Sangh, Praveen Donthi highlights many such incidents behind closed doors of Delhi that suggest the friction between Modi and Gadkari continued even after the former became Prime Minister. One such incident, Donthi was told by a journalist close to Gadkari. Gadkari had taken over the Road and Transport Ministry and began moving the wheels in several pending projects. However, Modi became a hindrance in the path as Modi did not approve three of his initial projects. When the fourth file was also rejected, visibly upset Gadkari called up RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and said, “I can’t work like this, I would rather come back and remain a swayamsevak.” The same day Bhagwat rushed to Delhi and made a truce between the two. According to the journalist, Modi agreed to keep his nose out of Gadkari’s ministry on an assurance that Gadkari would never criticise Modi in or outside the party. This also explains why the latter takes veiled jibe when it comes to standing up to Modi and Shah.

Gadkari

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When the BJP won Maharashtra Assembly elections, Gadkari’s name was at the forefront in the possible CM’s list. He was even backed by the NCP. But the party leadership instead chose Devendra Fadnavis- a religious follower of Narendra Modi. The move was taken to avoid any parallel PowerCenter.

Gadkari-The blue-eyed boy of Sangh:

Given the autocratic functioning of Modi and Shah within the party, the only reason why Nitin Gadkari is openly rebelling against the duo without inviting any strict action is that he has a strong RSS backing.

Born in Nagpur, home turf of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Gadkari grew up in the backyards of the RSS. His mother, an RSS worker had an influence on Gadkari who also became a religious Swayamsevak of RSS. He graduated from Nagpur’s GS College of Commerce and Economics and later joined the law college at Nagpur University. But he affiliated with the ABVP quite early and even participated during emergency protests when RSS threw its entire weight behind the JP movement.

Gadkari

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Post-BJP’s formation, he quickly rose in ranks in the party’s city unit. Though Gadkari was Sangh’s preferred choice, most of the limelight was hogged by his contemporary Pramod Mahajan-a staunch Vajpayee supporter and Gopinath Munde. Gadkari- a Brahmin, was also sought to be out of the core team of the party as it was trying to harness the OBC and Maratha votes by aligning with Shiv Sena. However, it was the RSS that pressurised LK Advani to declare Gadkari the state party chief. Later, in 1996 he was also made a minister in PWD. The RSS also prevailed upon the decision to extend a second term to Gadkari in 2012. It was the first time when BJP’s constitution was amended to facilitate his re-election. His closeness to RSS is such that the Sangh had Prime Ministerial plans for him as early as in 2011.

Though, a Sangh disciple, Gadkari differentiates himself in the sea of politicians with RSS affiliations. He mixes well with corporate big-wigs and leaders from across the party lines alike. Maybe it is the quality that he picked up from the second generation Maharashtra politicians like Sharad Pawar. Despite keeping a low profile, he is best known for his performance delivery. His vast knowledge during the PWD days even impressed Atal Bihari Vajpayee who appointed him as the chairman of the National Rural Road Development Committee. Even today, he remains the top performer in Modi’s cabinet.

gadkari

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However, like every politician, he has his share of controversies tagged to him. The lavish weddings of his three children, especially his daughter’s wedding in the wake of demonetisation drew eyeballs. His firm Purti group was accused of financial irregularities while he himself was accused of favouring companies in government contract in which he had stakes. As these allegations came in the wake of Anti-graft movement raging in India, his credibility took a hit and after much resistance, on the decision of RSS had to resign from the Party President post.

Since then, Gadkari kept a low profile and shifted his focus on nurturing his Lok Sabha constituency. Four years later, he has now emerged as a dark horse. After the defeat in the recent assembly election, the sheen has worn off the Modi-Shah duo. The one-man army Narendra Modi seems to be in a weaker position for the first time in the last four years. Gadkari has sensed that it is the perfect time to take a shot. His Prime Ministerial aspirations were doused in the run-up to 2014, with the situation favourable now, will RSS fuel the fire for Gadkari again?

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