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GoM to study quota for poor among forward castes

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI AUG. 11. The Vajpayee Government today took a series of important decisions — clearing a Bill for banning cow slaughter, setting up a Group of Ministers (GoM) on reservation for the economically backward classes among the forward castes and granting full Statehood for Delhi — all of which are being seen as "election-oriented" steps.

These decisions were taken at a Union Cabinet meeting today, ahead of the Assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram due by year-end.

The GoM on reservation would be headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, and comprise the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, the Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, the Social Justice Minister, Satyanarayan Jaitya, and the Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar. It would hold consultations with other political parties and discuss the modalities such as whether to set up a Commission to examine the issue, the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, told presspersons.

Incidentally, the Government's decisions appear to have been driven by the `agenda' set by the three Congress Chief Ministers — Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan and Sheila Dixit of Delhi.

Mr. Digvijay Singh was the first off the blocks in demanding that the Government consider bringing in legislation to ban cow slaughter in the country, in response to a BJP-supported agitation pointing out that Madhya Pradesh already had a law in place.

The demand was apparently made to turn the tables on the BJP, which is gearing to deny Mr. Digvijay Singh a third term in office in the State. The move to introduce a Bill in the current session of Parliament is aimed at blunting Mr. Digvijay Singh's campaign and also forcing the Congress central leadership to take a stand on this issue. Equally contentious is the demand for reservation for the "poor" among the forward castes, spearheaded by a BJP leader in Rajasthan under the banner of the Social Justice Front.

Sensing a political opportunity in the wake of persistent demands, Mr. Gehlot endorsed the same with the rider that it was for the Centre to enact legislation on the issue which required an amendment to the Constitution.

The intensity of the demand was experienced by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Jaipur on Sunday where he declared his Government's willingness to amend the Constitution to make provision for reservation for the poor among the unreserved categories.

However, he made it known that the issue could not be clinched without the Opposition's support. Clamour for full Statehood for the National Capital Territory of Delhi has been on for a long time. Aware of its potential as a poll issue, Ms. Dixit, got a resolution adopted by the Delhi Legislative Assembly seeking full Statehood. The move forced even the BJP to back it up publicly with Madan Lal Khurana lending his weight to it.

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