Sonia says quota is end "discrimination imposed by centuries of subjugation and oppression

The Congress swung into damage control mode on Wednesday after general secretary Janardan Dwivedi’s call to end the caste-based reservation caused anger within the party and drew sharp criticism across the political spectrum.

In a strongly worded statement, party president Sonia Gandhi did not just rule out such a possibility, she took full ownership of the caste-based reservation, stressing that “they were introduced by the Congress, they have been strengthened by the Congress and they will continue to be championed by the Congress.”

Her intervention came, senior party sources told The Hindu, after several party leaders conveyed their unhappiness with Mr. Dwivedi’s statement. Indeed, her statement is being read in party circles as a snub to the senior general secretary who was, till recently, the party’s communication chief.

If Ms. Gandhi’s statement came in the evening, both the Congress and the government distanced themselves earlier in the day from Mr. Dwivedi’s statement, saying it was his “personal” view.

Mr. Dwivedi is a “seasoned and experienced” politician, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, but “his statement is his personal opinion. The Congress continues to adhere to, subscribe to and support the existing reservation policy. There is no change in our stand.”

And in the Rajya Sabha, after the Opposition raised the issue, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla said: “The government is not considering any proposal to provide reservation based on economic criteria. The reservation as it stands today will continue as per constitutional provisions.” Mr. Dwivedi, a member of the Upper House, was present when Mr. Shukla gave the government’s clarification.

“There should be no doubt on the stand of the Congress on the system of reservation for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and the OBCs,” Ms. Gandhi said, pointing out that the empowerment of these sections was “an article of faith” for the party.

Ms. Gandhi underscored the fact that the Congress introduced reservation for the SCs/ STs in government jobs and educational institutions in the 1950s, and for the OBCs in the 1990s. The party was “of the firm opinion” that this must continue as it was “essential to deal with the discrimination imposed by centuries of subjugation and oppression.”

The Congress, she said, had introduced two Bills to strengthen the framework for reservation — one to create a legal framework to ensure effective implementation, and the other to provide for reservation in promotions for the SCs/STs. She also listed the party’s other initiatives: scholarships for the SCs/STs and the OBCs; policies to encourage procurement of goods and services by government agencies from enterprises promoted by the SCs/STs; and a dialogue to ensure affirmative action for the SCs/STs in the private sector.

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