The Lok Sabha has passed the historic Bill that provides for 10 percent reservation in educational institutions and public services under the state to “economically weaker” sections belonging to the general category. An overwhelming majority of the political parties supported it. The bill was passed as 323 members voted in its favour and merely three members opposed it in the Lok Sabha. The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019 which paves the way for reservation to “economically weaker sections” was passed in the Lok Sabha after a discussion of more than four and a half hours.
The Union Cabinet had approved the bill on Monday and it was tabled in the Lok Sabha the very next day. Now, it is set to be tabled today in the Rajya Sabha and given the kind of support that the Bill received in the Lok Sabha, it seems that the Bill will say through the Rajya Sabha as well. The way opposition had to support the Bill despite an innate desire to oppose everything that the government proposes, shows why this move has turned out to be a political masterstroke.
The fact that only three members voted against the passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha is enough to underline the political significance of this Bill. The opposition parties, including the Congress, felt compelled to support the Bill. The opposition could do nothing than calling the Bill a “political gimmick” and express the apprehension that the Bill if passed, may fail to stand the judicial scrutiny. However, these doubts were effectively allayed by Social Justice Minister Thaavarchand Gehlot who stated that he is confident that the apex court will accept it. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also made a forceful pitch for the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha.
Jaitley said that almost every political party, including the Congress, had supported such a measure in their poll manifesto. He also outrightly rejected the apprehension that the measure may not be able to stand the judicial scrutiny. He elucidated that the 50% ceiling on reservation applies only to reservation for caste-based reservations. The bill tabled in the Lok Sabha provided for reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category and therefore not hit by the 50% bar on reservations. Jaitley further explained that earlier attempts by the Centre and states to make such a provision had failed because they were either statutory provisions or notifications. These legislative instruments did not derive legitimacy from the constitution. Article 15 and 16 of the constitution presently mention only socially and educationally backward classes and the SCs and the STs. The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 amends the Constitution of India by introducing provisions for economically weaker sections within the general category. Arun Jaitley further persuaded the Congress to stand up to its promise and quoted from its manifesto, which provided for such a provision and asked the grand old party to “walk its talk” by supporting the bill. He also responded strongly to the jumla jibe made by the opposition and asked if the mention of such quota in their manifesto was also a jumla. Jaitley took on the opposition calling upon them to support the Bill wholeheartedly instead of showing grudges over its passage.
The opposition which generally loves to create a furore at the drop of a hat in the Parliament and tries to bring its functioning to a halt every now and then was almost compelled to support the Bill. This shows that the opposition was outdone by the Modi government. The Bill was tabled even as the country is headed towards the next Lok Sabha polls in a few months’ time. At such a critical juncture, none of the political outfits can afford to disappoint such a sizeable portion of the electorate. Taking a stance against reservation for the economically weaker sections within the general category would have created a strong sentiment against the opposition parties and none of them could afford exclusion of a high percentage of the electorate. The opposition would have come under severe criticism and that is why the government was able to get the Bill through easily in the Lok Sabha. This indeed was a political masterstroke and its effect would be apparent when the nation goes to polls this year.