General category reservation bill: A big disruptor ahead of LS polls

modi-wave-afp Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd as he arrives in Medininagar during a campaign sweep through Jharkhand state to inaugurate development projects | AFP

The Narendra Modi government's decision to move a Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and education for those in the general category, if they fall in the economically backward sections, comes as a big disruptor just months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The surprise decision entails that those who belong to families whose annual income is less than Rs 8 lakh, and who possess up to 5 acres of land, will be able to avail jobs and admission in educational institutions. This will be over and above the already existing 50 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Communities.

According to government sources, the Modi regime will introduce the proposed amendment in Parliament tomorrow. Since the current session comes to an end tomorrow, the government is open to the idea of extending the session by two days, sources said. The move to provide quota, on the basis of economic criteria, in jobs and education, to those who currently fall in the general category, appears to be aimed at appealing to the upper caste voters. They are upset with the BJP, mainly with regard to issues like joblessness and a perception that the saffron party was focusing solely on the dalits and the backward castes.

As per the party's assessment, the upper castes are angry over the Modi government's decision to amend the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act to negate the Supreme Court judgment which had done away with automatic arrests under the law. A large number of people belonging to the upper castes either did not vote or pressed the NOTA button, and even looked at the Congress as an alternative. The Patidar agitation against the ruling BJP in Gujarat is also seen as a manifestation of the anger of the upper caste, landed community over decreasing farm income and lack of availability of jobs. The proposed move is also seen as a reaction to the opposition's incessant campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi with regard to his promise made before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 of providing two crore jobs a year.

However, the decision is a double-edged sword, which might end up consolidating the backward classes and the dalits against the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections. And it could have catastrophic results for the BJP.

The anti-BJP forces are expected to argue that the move is in line with the RSS policy that reservation should be provided on the basis of economic criteria rather than on the basis of caste. Also, the upper castes might end up looking at the development as a poll gimmick, given that the wide economic criterion proposed for the quota would result in humungous competition for a slot in the ten per cent reservation.

The opposition Congress termed the proposed reservation based on economic criteria an 'election gimmick'. “Qs: Did u nt think of this for 4 yrs 8 mnths? So obviously thought of as election gimmick 3 mnths b4 model code!” tweeted Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi.

He also said that the Modi government is aware that it cannot exceed the 50 per cent limit on reservation, so it is only posturing.