New quota bout, old game of caste politics

For the past six days, Uttar Pradesh government employees opposed to reservation for SC/STs in promotion in government jobs have been on strike. They have held demonstrations against the Congress and BJP which support the Bill, indulged in vandalism, and brought work to a standstill.

In this, they have the complete support of the state government run by the Samajwadi Party, that was the only party to vote against the Bill providing for the quota when it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has backed the employees "agitating for their rights".

The strike, after all, fits in well with the SP's caste politics — even if facts show that the party has never opposed reservation in promotions in the past. Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav did not raise any objections to four constitutional amendments enacted to protect reservation in promotions for SC/STs after adverse court judgments. The 77th amendment was piloted by the Narasimha Rao government in 1995, and the 81st, 82nd and 85th by the Vajpayee government. The latest amendment is meant to protect reservation in promotions for SC/STs from the effects of a Supreme Court verdict, which had quashed the Mayawati government's policy on the matter.

Following the court order, the SP government amended the laws to give effect to the ruling. As a result, a large number of general category employees got promotions that had been stalled by prolonged litigation. Naturally, these employees are apprehensive about the effect of the constitutional amendment now. The government strike apart, the SP is using other means to whip up passions on the matter. Mulayam has stated that soon no CM may have a chief secretary and no prime minister a cabinet secretary from the non-reserved category of officers.

If for the BSP, the Bill is a way of reassuring the Dalits — its core support base, the SP hopes to use it to paint the BSP, Congress and BJP as villains in the eyes of the non-Dalits in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. That, Mulayam hopes, will get it not just upper caste votes but also those of Muslims — amid the Rajya Sabha debate, he threw in a call for a quota for the community.

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