Quota Bill: When did Modi care for India?

Not much application of the mind appears to have been given to finalise the 10% Quota Bill, which is cynically designed to create the optics that may help Narendra Modi to campaign in 2019

PTI photo
PTI photo

Zafar Agha

Trust Narendra Modi to try out the caste card to return to power in 2019 after successfully dealing with religion to polarise people in 2002 in Gujarat. Some are calling his latest move to bring the upper caste constituency into reservation ambit a master stroke. Others are not too sure what will be the political and social consequences of the Prime Minister’s latest quota move. But what is clearly evident is that his sudden love for upper castes is driven by lust of power rather than any motive to uplift the poor among the ‘socially forwards’.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the move betrays nervousness and desperation. After the loss of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assemblies, he is suffering from a bout of nerves. Besides, news from Uttar Pardesh and Bihar too is not encouraging for the BJP. Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have almost announced an electoral alliance in UP. Congress too is talking to the SP-BSP there. Bihar gathbandhan is already in place. Congress and the NCP alliance is also in place in Maharashtra. On top of that, NDA allies like the AGP in Assam and Apna Dal in UP are on the verge of walking out of the NDA.

The BJP is clearly in trouble. The Hindi heartland is slipping from its grip. The BJP had won 176 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 from the eight states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Political pundits are already predicting a loss of 80-100 seats for the BJP and its allies from this region alone. Such an outcome, needless to say, will upset Modi’s arithmetic in 2019.

Even his electoral chemistry is disturbed. He is no longer a winning mascot that a vast number of voters trusted in 2019. Modi now is a failed Prime Minister who made big promises but failed almost on all fronts. The economy, suffering from Demonetisation and the GST impact, is in a mess. Farmers are on the streets; youth are restless without jobs while traders and medium businessmen do not know when the market would revive. Incumbency-ridden Modi is an electoral liability now.

Narendra Modi at the fag end of his term is pushing India to a kind of social divide that may be difficult to heal even for his successors. If that’s the aim, he may have a chuckle or two for a while. But surely India will be the loser in this cynical game of vote bank politics

Narendra Modi knows it more than anyone else that the ground is slipping fast under his feet. So, desperation is obvious in the BJP camp. Ten per cent reservation quota for the upper castes is one desperate move in that direction. The attempt is to change the political narrative from Rafale, Demonetisation, GST, unemployment, farm distress, weakening institutions and other Modi failures.

Modi and the RSS are first aiming to consolidate the powerful upper caste constituency in its favour. Brahmins in the Hindi belt are said to be upset with the reintroduction of the SC-ST (Prohibition of Atrocities) Act which recriminalises atrocities committed on socially downtrodden sections of the society. BJP hopes to mollify this group by offering the reservation ‘lollipop’ to them. Secondly, Modi hopes to deflect criticism from his failures to something he can take credit for.

But his move is too little and has come a little too late. The countdown to the next Lok Sabha election has already begun. Time is too short for Modi to get the constitutional amendment necessary for the quota bill to be approved by not just the Parliament but also by at least ten state assemblies. Will it be feasible for the BJP to get it done in such a short time is anybody’s guess. If no reservation benefits trickle down to the targeted constituency, why should it get enthused to oblige the BJP in 2019! Besides, upper castes do not vote on emotions as much as other socially backwards groups do. They do the cost-benefit maths before making up their mind on whom to vote for.

Reservation is an issue that has been polarising the Indian society since the pre-Independence days. Pakistan’s founder M.A. Jinnah sought Muslim reservation on the basis of separate electorate and eventually divided the Indian sub-continent between India and Pakistan. We all have witnessed how Mandal reservations divided Hindu society between forwards and backwards in early 1990’s.

Similarly, the move to put ‘upper castes’ in quota bracket is likely to agitate Dalits and the OBCs who have been complaining that they are being left out of government jobs despite reservation. Both the OBCs and Dalits have strong caste leaders and parties to espouse their cause. Besides, caste groups like Jat, Maratha and Patidars have also been demanding quota for themselves. Will they now be appeased by the 10% reservation offered theoretically to all weaker sections?

So, a desperate Modi has made a move that will upset more and satisfy fewer people. Besides, it will give a fillip to caste divisiveness in society rather than harmonising India. But this kind of divisiveness will suit caste-based political outfits more than the BJP.

It is instructive to remember that Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister who implemented Mandal quota for the backwards after the Supreme Court gave its nod to OBC reservation. Instead of Rao, regional outfits, led by caste parties, followed Rao in power in 1996 and not the Congress. Caste polarisation will once again help outfits like the SP and the BSP rather than the BJP in 2019.

Narendra Modi at the fag end of his term is pushing India to a kind of social divide that may be difficult to heal even for his successors. If that’s the aim, he may have a chuckle or two for a while. But surely India will be the loser in this cynical game of vote bank politics.

But then when did Modi care for India? He has always been in the election-mode, obsessed with winning elections and carving out a place for himself in the Guinness Book of Records, if not history.

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