On December 14, about 1.8 million government employees in Uttar Pradesh split into two groups and almost exchanged blows on the Quota in Promotions Bill. The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. The news of the flare-up in Lucknow did not hit the headlines outside the state. A few who did take notice dismissed it as a minor aberration provoked by the two regional satraps - Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav - to occupy the centrestage on the contentious issue. The incident happened in UP, but be assured such fights will take place across the country in the future.
The state is facing the heat because it has suffered the ripple effects of quota in promotions when Mayawati came to power in 2007. She demolished the hierarchical structure in government departments by allowing consequential seniority. Here are some examples: an assistant engineer was forced to work under his batchmate who thanks to quota in promotions became chief engineer. Another officer, a 1977 batch engineer, had to work under a superintending engineer who was 10 years his junior. In some cases, while beneficiaries of quota got three promotions in 17 years, others had to wait 20 years for their first promotion. Most took the advantage of the quota twice, once at the time of recruitment and again at the time of promotion.
The issue went to the courts and a stay was imposed. Since then chief minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav has changed the rules in the state. It is high time that politicians realise that empowerment can be a mission but not a divisive tool and that the architects of the Indian Constitution had envisioned a casteless society.
Somehow many in the Congress and the BJP are missing the political import of the situation: the 2014 general elections in the state will be fought on the contentious issue of quota in promotions. Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav have made judicious political moves to reconsolidate their caste-based vote-banks.
Mayawati must have been perturbed after the surveys showed some fissures in the Dalit vote-bank of the BSP in the 2012 assembly elections. By supporting the quota, she is not only reconsolidating her political strength in the state, but also aiming to hurt the Congress in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. In all these places, she has a committed party cadre and set-up. That's the reason why she cautiously attacked the Congress and the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, positioning herself as the only saviour of the Dalits and their interests.
On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav fears an anti-incumbency vote in 2014. The SP government is yet to deliver. Thus his vociferous opposition to the quota in promotions may help him enlarge his votebank beyond Muslims and Yadavs and also help him shift the focus from the non-performing SP government.
With 80 Lok Sabha seats, the state is high on the agenda of every political party vying to form the government or be its active ally at the Centre. The Congress and the BJP had been at a loss to find a winning formula in the state. Once again they find themselves in the spectators' stand while the regional satraps wrestle for the trophy. But sadly, it is the public that will suffer if public servants start moving files according to the caste labels pasted on them.