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Disquiet and difference in Cong over quota

In the heat of the raging controversy over quota in higher education Rahul Gandhi?s cryptic comment ? both sides have valid points? reflect the disquiet and the difference of opinion on the contentious issue in the Congress today. And now that the cat is already out of the bag, the party knows that there is no scope for retreat. Mandal 11 may not give gains to Congress, but can certainly add to their political pains.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 01:18 IST

In the heat of the raging controversy over quota in higher education Rahul Gandhi’s cryptic comment ‘ both sides have valid points’ reflect the disquiet and the difference of opinion on the contentious issue in the Congress today. And now that the cat is already out of the bag, the party knows that there is no scope for retreat. Mandal 11 may not give gains to Congress, but can certainly add to their political pains.

The general perception is that the central government’s eagerness to go ahead with quota is politically driven. UP election have been heavy on their mind. So why not go ahead with yet another experiment to revive the party before it is buried  forever in the politically volatile state of Uttar Pradesh? Voting trend must have been the guiding factor . Since early 1990’s the caste conscious voter has been crying for  bijli pani sadak but has voted for caste or community.

Even today both Mulayam and Mayawati are busy drawing up their own caste constituencies.

But had the Congress flipped through the pages of history, the party would not have committed the political blunder of implementing Mandal II. As the history has gone to prove that champions of quota have only met their nemesis in the electoral arena of modern India especially when the protagonists are from the upper caste. And data proves it.

So it is quite likely that history may once again repeat itself in Uttar Pradesh. The HRD Minister Arjun Singh’s controversial decision to extend quota in higher education may boomerang on the Congress party in the state of Uttar Pradesh though the reaction is much more muted than the one witnessed in early 1990’s when students had committed self-immolations. As of now the students in IITs, IIM’s have taken out silent processions, waged a war against it on the net to build a public opinion against it. As for the state universities 27 percent quota for OBCs was implemented way back in 1994.

But wasn’t the Congress trying to mobilize the youth power under the youthful leadership of Rahul Gandhi and others. Won’t this decision throw a spanner in their efforts? While the educated Dalit or OBC would not support Congress only because it provided for quota in higher education (there are innumerable officers who refused to take the quota route) others are unlikely to dump the Yadav chieftain Mulayam or Lodh leader Kalyan Singh only because Congress pushed their agenda. Interestingly Arjun Singh’s decision has given a platform to VP Singh to bring together the pro- Mandal forces like Ram Vilas Paswan, Laloo Yadav and others. He is talking of Kisan, but would talk about quota also. Let the heat rise.

Lets have a look at the data. Both the former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh and former UP chief minister Rajnath Singh had pledged to change the social system. As self-styled champions of social justice, both lived in an illusory world of achieving a politically unassailable position in the state till the poll results poured cold water on their dreams. Both paid a heavy price for their decisions on quota in early 1990’s and early 2000.

 And incidentally they belonged to UP and their prime concern too was their fluctuating party’s fortunes in the state. VP Singh had to counter BJP, which drew its strength from Ayodhya in UP. Rajnath had to prove his charisma in the state where the party was on a steady decline.

VP Singh, who gave a call of ‘vyavyastha parivartan’ (change in social system), failed to resurrect himself till date. However now he found an ally in Raj Babbar and is busy reviving Jan Morcha. The public perception remains he will damage more, revamp less. As for the fate of his erstwhile party Janata Dal, it is best described in a parody penned by BJP leader Kalyan Singh—  ‘ Janata Dal ke tukde hazar huye ,kuch idhar gire kuch udhar’. What an irony the words of his then close lieutenant Satyapal Mallick rings truer today, “ You have left a legacy of divisiveness for which the nation would never forgive you”. For those who have not kept track of UP politics, Janata Dal’s Lok Sabha seats from UP fell from 54 in 1989 to 22 in 1991(the post Mandal scenario). VP Singh had expected a Mandal miracle in UP. Nothing happened. Instead his party since then has disintegrated and disappeared while Singh is waging a renewed battle for kisans, rarely talked about Mandal as his politics was not revolving around quota. Now it may get a fillip.

Yet another Rajput leader from UP who committed this folly was Rajnath Singh. His experiment with quota within quota policy for most backward castes and extremely backward castes among the OBCs, most Dalits among Dalits boomeranged on him. What was touted as BJP’s trump card got stuck in the courts? The party failed to derive any political mileage as the unique quota within quota policy failed to divide the Opposition precious vote banks of OBCs and Dalits. The initial hype with lakhs appearing for written examinations failed to convert into votes.  BJP ended with less than 100 seats in the Vidhan Sabha of 403 in 2002 assembly elections.

Congress has seemingly not learnt from their mistakes and their experiment to rebuild the party on the reservation pie is all set to fail. OBCs have not been their traditional voters and they can ill afford to speak the casteist language of others lest they alienate the traditional vote bank of Brahmins, the middle class also in the process. . 

Had the Congress done its homework properly it would have known that the caste clock has taken a full circle. Just as 1990’s saw the emergence of docile dalits and OBC’s on state’s political agenda, the 2000 has begun with the focus shifting to hitherto neglected upper castes.

Now that Dalits, OBCs and Muslims are clearly divided amongst the two major regional forces, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, neither of the two is seemingly confident of a majority. Thus they need to supplement their vote banks. They have virtually launched statewide drives to woo Brahmins, Rajputs, Vaishyas. SP is busy organizing Kashatriya sammelans, Parshuram’s jayanti and Vaishya sammelans to woo the three upper castes; BSP has already constituted booth level committees with representatives of both Dalits and Brahmins on them.

Strangely in a scenario like this, the Congress is talking about quota.  

What would the Congress get in the process? What a pity today when the backward leaders are trying to play down the rhetoric, the Congress playing the suicidal caste card.

It’s high time the Congress feels the pulse of the people or it would be the case of Na Raja mila or Na Ram. It would neither rebuild its old vote bank of Muslims, Brahmins and Dalits nor add a new vote bank of OBCs. After all quota has not benefited the man on the street and creamy layer is too clever to fall in their trap.