The hostility between the government and the BJP escalated on Wednesday, with the former making it clear that it was determined to push ahead with the constitutional amendment Bill to provide for reservation in promotions to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Earlier in the day, the government introduced the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, amid continuing chaos and hold-ups.
The Congress issued a whip to its members to be present in the House on Thursday to see the Bill through. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said: “This is a social justice measure with wide political support.”
The BJP was clearly taken aback by the move, which, in one stroke, shifted the focus from Coalgate to social justice. The government’s strategy seemed to be two-fold. If the BJP supported the bill, it would be a victory for the government. If the BJP opposed it, the government could turn around and say the party was against affirmative action.
However, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The government has no interest in social justice at all. It has brought in this Bill only to deflect attention from the coal blocks allocation scam. It is firing from the shoulders of [BSP chief] Mayawati whose commitment to fight corruption is anyway suspect.”
Mr. Prasad argued that the CBI raids on coal block allottees had exposed the Congress and the government. “On a day of serious developments in Coalgate which left the government embarrassed, it rushes to bring in this Bill. It is a clever ploy of diversion.”
Batting for the Congress, Renuka Chowdhary and Jairam Ramesh said the Bill needed to be passed urgently in order to get round two court judgments. They said reservation in promotions was not new and had been in force between 1955 and 1995. Besides, the Bill had support across the political spectrum, a fact that was reflected at the August 21 all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister.
Mr. Ramesh pointed out that at the meeting, only the Samajwadi Party had expressed reservations: “Much as we find the SP’s position unfortunate, it was not unforeseen. But the opposition from the BJP is clearly politically motivated.”
The BJP expressed misgivings on two counts. The party said the Bill was cleared at an unscheduled meeting of the Cabinet, and it did not go through the Business Advisory Committee. This suggested the government was in a huge hurry to push through a measure that needed to be debated properly. Secondly, while the party supported social justice, its backing was subject to “the limitation of constitutional permissibility.”
BJP sources said the party felt discomfited in going along with a constitutional amendment Bill that was against the spirit of Supreme Court judgments on reservation.