Any celebrations over the UPA’s victory on retail FDI proved short-lived as two key allies in that battle put the government in a spot by taking diametrically opposing positions on promotion quotas for scheduled castes and tribes.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati issued a three-day ultimatum for getting SC/ST quota promotion bill passed, while Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) threatened to disrupt parliament until the proposal is withdrawn.
Just last week, the two parties had come together to help the UPA get its retail FDI bill through Parliament, breaking a deadlock in lawmaking.
But on Monday the politically sensitive issue of quotas saw the old rivals in Uttar Pradesh politics digging in their heels, as the BJP rubbed salt into the government's wounds by calling on it to bring its allies into line before even talking to the opposition.
Mayawati said she would not tolerate any delay in getting the legislation through.
“We will wait for two-three days to see what the government does to get the bill passed, otherwise we will be forced to take a tough stand. We will go to any extent on this issue,” she told reporters after the SP forced the adjournment of Rajya Sabha for the day, opposing the bill.
Mayawati went on to allege a tacit understanding between the SP and BJP on the issue. “BJP and its friends do not want this bill to be passed. They urged the SP to disrupt proceedings.”
The SP made it clear that it would not allow a quota in promotions. “This bill is unconstitutional and we will not allow it to be passed. Our opposition will continue even at the cost of being suspended from the House,” said senior leader Ram Gopal Yadav.
The government is hopeful of convincing the SP to get the bill passed after it has registered its protest, since it is the only party openly opposing it. Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath both said the government would try and persuade the SP on the issue.
Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari held an informal meeting in his chamber in a bid to break the deadlock. The meeting was attended by BSP and SP leaders along with leader of the opposition, Arun Jaitley and minister of state in Prime Minister's Office, V Narayanasamy. It remained inconclusive and more such consultations are likely in coming days.
“First the government should get its supporting parties to let the parliament function and then it should talk to the real opposition,” said senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu.
His colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “BJP is fully supportive of this measure subject to constitutional parameters,” indicating the party would carefully study the provisions of the bill before committing complete support. In Patna, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar said his party, a key constituent of the BJP-led NDA, favoured a quota in promotions.