From No to Yes On Quota Bill – India’s Democracy Altered in 2 Days

From No to Yes On Quota Bill – India’s Democracy Altered in 2 Days

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I was very surprised when, in the Rajya Sabha debate on the “10 percent Forward’s Quota Bill”, one political stud after another began with a stinging rebuke, then wrung his/her hands and ended with an abject “No, never… but hold on, maybe, yes.”

Kapil Sibal on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Kapil Sibal on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
Ram Gopal Yadav on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Ram Gopal Yadav on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
Praful Patel on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Praful Patel on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
Derek O’Brien on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Derek O’Brien on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
Satish Chandra Misra on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Satish Chandra Misra on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
Kanimozhi on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
Kanimozhi on Quota Bill in Rajya Sabha
(Photo: The Quint)
But when it came to the actual vote, all of them (except for DMK, RJD and IUML) quietly fell in line and greenlit the bill, even in the Rajya Sabha, where the government stood no chance of getting a two-thirds majority. If these leaders wanted, they could have easily supported DMK’s motion to refer the Bill to a Joint Select Committee. But the nation watched, stunned! In two days flat, the alchemy of India’s equal-opportunity democracy was altered.

Fractured Sentiment on Ground

However, the sentiment on the ground was/is fractured:

  • Several SC/ST/OBC beneficiaries fear that this is a “test encroachment” that could eventually replace caste-based reservations with affirmative action based solely on economic criteria. After all, the RSS has never hidden its “desire” to rid India of caste distinctions, while the current reservation regime sharpens sub-identities.
  • Even those entitled to the new quotas are restive. Many feel that by stipulating such a high watermark – a daily household income of Rs 2,100, which covers almost 95 percent of India’s population for a paltry 10 percent reservation – these benefits will be cornered by the well-off in the general categories, once again denying the real poor their due.
  • The salaried classes, once again, feel they are the “first to be whipped”. While they cannot fudge salary statements, those with unaccounted money shall enjoy the “privilege” of producing false certificates showing lower incomes.
  • Finally, there is extreme resentment brewing in the “top 5 percent” who are not covered by any reservation. Nearly 5 crore middle and upper middle-class Indians are asking in simmering anger: What’s the point of living in a country which outlaws merit?

If Opposition Gave a Categorical Yes or No...

Just imagine if the Opposition parties had been categorical instead of ambivalent. If they wanted to support it, they should have given a full-throated, unqualified YES, thereby cutting Prime Minister Modi’s political payoff in half.

Else, if they wanted to oppose, they should have cracked a loud NO, saying, “we fully support the Bill, but want to examine its pitfalls/infirmities in a select committee for two weeks. Once that is done, and the Bill has become fair and just for all, we shall insist on a special session to pass this historic Bill.” 

This would have halted the Modi steamroll and given the Opposition time to harness the gathering disenchantment into a potent protest movement.

They would have occupied the critical opposition space, exactly as they have done with the Triple Talaq Bill. Or with the Citizenship Bill. In both these instances, they’ve stood firm, taken the blows, but slowly welded the narrative away from the government, at least with those fearing exploitation and disenfranchisement.

I wonder why they missed that trick here, especially when the lessons of recent electoral history are clear. People back decisive politicians; they endorse risk-takers. Today, the country is again yearning for change. What it doesn’t need from its politicians is shades of that evocative Bollywood song “main peeta nahin hoon peelayi gayi hai” (ie, I don’t drink, but have been forced to drink), that is:

“We did not want to support the government, but heck, we were forced to.”

Also Read : “No… But Maybe, Yes” Is Lose-Lose Politics for India’s Opposition

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