The 10% Quota Bill Unmasks a Nervous BJP Ahead of 2019 Polls

The penultimate Parliament session of the Modi govt is a rude reminder that there is no “party with a difference’’. 

4 min read
The penultimate Parliament session of the Modi govt is a rude reminder that there is no “party with a difference’’. 

The penultimate Parliament session of the Modi government’s tenure will be remembered for the cynical manipulation of the Constitution for electoral purposes. It was rude reminder that there is no such thing as “a party with a difference’’. The compulsion to win trumps everything.

Just as the Congress-led UPA 2 government showed desperation on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha election with a flurry of poll sops, including the controversial carving out of Telangana from the state of Andhra Pradesh, the Modi government pulled the quota rabbit out of its hat in a clear display of nerves as the 2019 polls loom.

The carrot to the BJP’s angry voters among the upper castes in the form of 10 percent reservations to the poor among them was rammed through on the last day of the winter session.

Although the decision tinkers with the basic fundamentals of the Constitution by adding a financial criterion to the mandated definition of backwardness for reservation benefits as socially and educationally deprived, virtually the entire political spectrum was party to the fiddle after roundly criticising the government.

Never mind that the quota plan is full of infirmities and will now be subject to legal scrutiny, which it may or may not pass. Every political party, including those in the Opposition, proved that they are all victims of vote bank politics.

BJP’s Anxiety Before The Big Elections Stands Exposed

Even as the Congress and other Opposition parties stood exposed in their hypocrisy as the curtain came down on the winter session, it was the BJP’s anxiety about the 2019 polls that coloured the mood.

Not only has it lost three key Hindi heartland states to the Congress in the recent round of Assembly polls, the BJP found itself cornered in the session by a resurgent Opposition on the Rafale deal.

Neither Arun Jaitley’s attempted witticisms, which included misquoting Ian Fleming, nor Nirmala Sitharaman’s impassioned two-hour long defence, could mask the government’s failure to answer crucial questions on the fighter aircraft deal signed with the French company Dassault.

Congress – Flag Bearer of the Rafale Campaign Against Modi Govt

The gainer in this war of words was the Congress party. It has been carrying the Rafale campaign alone for the past many months. But this time, after the BJP lost its aura of invincibility following the Assembly election defeats, all the non-BJP parties joined the attack.

The most significant of the new entrants were BJP ally Shiv Sena and fence-sitter BJD. Both echoed the Congress’ demand for a joint parliamentary committee investigation into the Rafale agreement. This definitely added heft to the Congress party’s allegations of a “fishy’’ deal and unnerved the BJP.

Metamorphosis of Rahul Gandhi From a Diffident Speaker Into a Sharp Debator

Another worry was the metamorphosis of Rahul Gandhi from a diffident speaker into a confident, sharp debator. His charges need substantiation but he succeeded in putting the government on the mat with pointed questions that both Jaitley and Sitharaman evaded answering.

Their evasion has managed to arouse suspicion and the linking of controversial honcho Anil Ambani to a deal inked by the Modi government without keeping the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in the loop has made many in the BJP uncomfortable. A senior BJP MP admitted on the condition of anonymity that a large section of the party is embarrassed by the “AA” association.

The Congress doesn’t have enough lead time to turn Rafale into another Bofors and make it a poll issue. It also doesn’t have a Mr Clean face like V P Singh to run the campaign. The BJP has reminded people again and again of the many corruption scandals shadowing the Gandhi name.

Yet, the BJP is worried. And the hasty announcement of the quota decision underlines the leadership’s concern that the road to 2019 is turning out to be tougher than it had anticipated.

History Shows Poll-Eve SOPs Rarely Work

History tells us that poll-eve sops rarely work. The UPA 2 announced a series of measures in the two Parliament sessions before the 2014 elections. They include the Right to Food Security Act, the Land Acquisition Act that seeks to give farmers adequate compensation for their land and finally, the creation of Telengana.

Nothing worked for the Congress.

In fact, the Telengana decision turned out to be a costly mistake. The party has virtually disappeared from the political map of a region that brought it to power at the Centre in two successive elections.

There are many other examples. For instance, the Hooda government in Haryana announced quotas for Jats just before the 2014 polls. It was struck down by the courts and the BJP is in power in the state today.

At around the same time, the Congress government in Maharashtra bowed to demands from the Maratha community for job reservations. It lost the subsequent election. And the decision has been thrown out by the courts.

Unfortunately, no party learns from past mistakes of others. The Modi government may have walked into the same quagmire as its predecessors.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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