At the time of publishing, the Rajya Sabha is debating the Modi government's bill to introduce a 10% reservation quota in government jobs and education for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). While the Constitution Amendment required to enact this quota was passed by the Lok Sabha and even found support from a number of opposition parties, outside of Parliament (and often even within), a number of these have been vocal in alleging that it is no more than an election gimmick and have questioned its feasibility, given the Supreme Court-imposed 50% cap on reservations.
However, a closer look at some of the recent election manifestos of these Opposition parties makes clear that being able to deliver such a quota was once something they themselves coveted.
'If you want to support the Bill, don't do it grudgingly. Do support it with big heart,' was the response of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Lok Sabha that found opposition leaders in an ambivalent spot
The Congress party displayed a hint of hypocrisy, considering how the party itself included a similar bill in their 2014 manifesto.
The Page 22 of the 2014 party manifesto stated that is is, "committed to finding a way forward for introducing reservation in education and employment for economically weaker sections of all communities."
However, as the debate brewed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, senior party leader Kapil Sibal attempted to question the motive behind the bill, citing it to be a "political jhumla", he said, "Mr. 10% has decided to give reservation cause they want to try to woo the voters. There is unemployment and farmers are dying but this is all because elections are approaching and thus this is all jumlas. Legally there will be a lot of contradictions but there is a political jumla behind this. This is a kind of reaching out to the 10% to get benefits as he thinks these people will vote for him."
Other Congress party leaders resonated with his voice, as senior leader Digvijay Singh too termed this move a 'jumla'
He said, "This is a 'jumla' because SCs have 16%, STs 7% and OBCs have 27% reservation. So, total 50% reservation is there. And it cannot be more than that. The constitution will have to be amended for that. So the PM from the BJP has done another 'jumla' by bringing 10% reservation for the unreserved Economically Weaker Section. If you are serious then bring a constitutional amendment."
Although with ambiguity, the party supported the bill in Lok Sabha, however questions were raised yet again in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Party leader Anand Sharma called it a 'politically motivated' bill to garner votes, he said, " Congress party is supporting this bill but there are 2-3 issues which have to be discussed. There have been reports before about the bill. They should not take credit for the bill. Everyone knows it is politically motivated and all for votes."
"'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' is a good ideology but is the reality? When will the good days(acchhe din) come?," he added.
Congress unanimously voiced that that they preferred a parliamentary committee to scrutinize the matter.
Ahead of 2014 General elections, Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi party promised to set up a sarvan ayog or upper caste commission to address reservation for the poor among the category.
Even though the bill was backed by the opposition party in Lok Sabha, it was layered with criticism, as Dharmendra Yadav called it 'politically motivated'.
SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav, too, cited political appeasement for the bill raising his concerns in the Upper House-
He said, "The 98% poor upper caste get 10% reservation, 2% non-poor upper caste get 40% reservation and claims that benefit will not reach people, those with merit will be left out because for space has shrunk."
"The barrier of 50% has been broken. So, the condition of OBCs is very bad. Furthermore, the condition of Muslims is even worse than the OBCs in the country," he added.
SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has been pitching for reservation to Muslims and more rights to OBCs but his party's manifesto suggested an attempt to contain consolidation of upper caste votes in favour of BJP. The promise to set up an upper-class commission to address the issues faced by the community, including reservation for the poor among them, comes more than a year after the party held a few 'Brahamin sammelans.'
Rashtriya Janata Dal
RJD in 2000 had promised a 5% reservation for the upper caste. Taking a U-turn from the party's own ideology, Rajesh Ranjan of the party said, "This is a trap being laid down just like 2 crore jobs, 15 lakhs."
At the Upper House RJD leader, Manoj Kumar Jha questioned the logic and intent of the Bill claiming that poverty is the highest among ST/SC, OBC and Muslims and that reservation cannot be treated as an MGNREGA program.