The BJP on Monday distanced itself from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's call for an overhaul of the reservation policy, saying it was against reconsidering the constitutional provision that granted benefits to weaker sections.
The party was forced into damage control over worries that the remarks by the chief of the RSS, its ideological parent, could have an adverse impact on its prospects in poll-bound Bihar, where backwards classes and scheduled castes constitute over 65% of the population and enjoy reservation, sources said.
“The BJP firmly believes that reservation is important for the social, education and economic development of these groups. The BJP is not in favour of any reconsideration of these constitutional provisions,” telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. He represents Bihar in the Rajya Sabha.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, too, seemed to have climbed down a notch after Bhagwat’s interview to mouthpiece Organiser created a flutter.
Bhagwat only said all weaker sections should get benefit of quota in keeping with the sentiments of the makers of Constitution, it said.
Bihar, where caste plays a vital role, will hold five-phase elections to its 243-member assembly, beginning October 12. The election is expected to be tightly fought, with the BJP and its NDA partners on one side and grand alliance of the ruling Janata Dal (U), a former BJP partner, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress joining hands to keep the BJP at bay.
Dalit, other backward classes and extremely backward classes (EBC) voters are expected to play a decisive role in the outcome.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad was quick to take on the BJP. He dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cancel the quota at the behest of his “master”. While the BJP was talking about ending reservation, the RJD would increase quota in proportion to the population of the targeted groups, he tweeted.
A senior BJP leader said Bhagwat’s suggestions were in keeping with RSS’ stated position but admitted they were “ill-timed”.
Other party leaders felt the remarks were in conflict with the BJP’s effort to stitch up a “winning combination” of upper castes, Dalits and EBCs together with a sizeable chunk of Yadav voters, sources said.
The BJP, which is contesting 160 seats, has fielded a sizable number of Yadav and EBC candidates and has also joined hands with Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Union minister Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, which is part of the NDA and enjoys support among backward communities, too, sought to put a lid over the controversy.
“Reservation is a settled issue in India as mandated by the Constitution. Beyond this, we have nothing to say,” general secretary Shivraj Singh said.
Bhagwat, however, found support in unexpected quarters.
Congress leader Manish Tewari questioned reservation in 21st century and said if it was required at all, economic condition, and not caste, should be the basis for it.
In an interview to Organiser, Bhagwat had on Sunday called for a review of the reservation policy, saying it was being used for political ends. An apolitical committee should examine who needed the benefit and for how long.
“The interview was not on the issue of reservation but integral humanism propagated by Deen Dayal Upadhyay and it should be seen in that context,” Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh publicity chief Manmohan Vaidya said