The judicial validation of the OBC quota regime in central higher educational institutions (CHEI) has set off a veritable stampede among parties to claim credit for the Congress-led UPA’s initiative, the first impact of which may be witnessed in the Karnataka polls.
But while welcoming the Supreme Court verdict upholding the 27% quota for OBCs in CHEIs, parties differed sharply over the exclusion of the creamy layer from communities that are estimated to constitute half of the country's population as well as of keeping minority institutions out of the quota cover.
Left parties like the CPM, CPI and Forward Bloc and even the JD(S) appreciated the distinction made between quota claimants and demanded immediate implementation, with the CPI maintaining that the creamy layer concept could be applied to jobs but not education.
But NDA allies like the JD(U) and UPA constituents like DMK, the LJP, PMK and RJD are unhappy at the skimming of the creamy layer. BSP’s Mayawati even urged the Centre to take another look at the criteria for defining the creamy layer in view of rising cost of living.
Clearly, the last has not been heard on the issue that may see a battle between parties at different levels. At one level, there will be intense lobbying in the cabinet and Parliament and perhaps even on the streets.
PMK’s Ambumani Ramadoss said the matter would be taken up with “like-minded'” parties and the UPA. “We will look into the matter when it comes up before the Cabinet,” said LJP's Ram Vilas Paswan. Added JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav: “This is not an economic upliftment programme. It is a policy decision of Parliament taken unanimously aimed at social equality.”
A corollary to the concession for the OBCs would be the call for reservations for the poor among the forward classes — a point promptly flagged by JD(S) leader H.D. Deve Gowda and Mayawati who also wanted religious minorities in the quota ambit. The BJP and the CPI demanded its extension to minority institutions.
The Congress was upbeat that the SC partially vindicated its stand on an issue that figures in the UPA's common minimum programme and is part of its strategy to woo communities that have given muscle to Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, the RJD in Bihar and the SP in UP. But ironically, the Congress's attempts to politically cash in on the court verdict in UP may prove to be double-edged, the party giving primacy to upper castes in its units in a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi hailed the judgment as “landmark” but walked the middle path. He claimed the exclusion of the creamy layer, which has upset UPA allies, does not take away from judiciary's endorsement of the policy. He said all motivated allegations made in this regard have now been silenced.
The BJP cautiously welcomed the verdict: one, because it felt that the quota regime should have included minority institutions; and two the JD(U) was upset that the scheme was not universally applicable among OBCs. Spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party would come out with a detailed reaction after studying the verdict, including the parameters adopted by the five judges on the creamy layer issue.