Today's Paper

PM seeks Opposition support on quota for the poor

JAIPUR AUG. 10. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, today sought the Opposition's support to carry out amendments to the Constitution to make provisions for reservation to the poor among the unreserved categories. A Bill to this effect could be brought in on the first day of the next Parliament session if the other parties, especially the Congress, agreed, he said.

At a public meeting to mark the conclusion of the "parivartan yatra" led by the Rajasthan BJP president, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, here, the Prime Minister said there was need for making a separate arrangement for those who were poor but not socially backward.

Mr. Vajpayee, who was visiting the city after over four years, used the opportunity to bring in the theme of "parivartan" (change) and said that winds of change had started blowing across the State.

Mr. Vajpayee devoted a considerable part of his 20-minute speech to the reservation issue. Though the BJP national executive at its meeting held here in June had in principle accepted the demand for reservation to the economically backward among the forwards in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, it was for the first time that Mr. Vajpayee had come out with a categorical "yes" to the theme.

"It should be a level-playing ground for all," he said pointing out that the nation had a set policy on reservation and any change in that needed a constitutional amendment. "The debate on reservation to the poor is strong in Rajasthan. We agree with their demand," he said. However, he pointed out that it was going to be a "difficult job". "We should join together on this."

As the NDA with all the constituent parties does not have two-thirds majority in Parliament, the support of the Congress was required in this regard. "All the political parties should come out with their viewpoints on the issue," he said, promising a Bill if they all agreed.

But the promise came with a rider. The Bill would be brought in only if he had clear assurances from other parties.

"We should be convinced of their support." He suggested that all the parties cooperate on the issue and settle it before the coming elections.

Commenting on the impasse in Parliament, Mr. Vajpayee said the issues concerning Parliament could be settled within the House itself. As for the public issues, they (the Opposition) could be taken to the people in the next elections.

Speech disrupted

Activists of the Social Justice Front (SJF) managed to evade the watchful eyes of the BJP workers and the Rajasthan police and almost disrupted Mr. Vajpayee's speech for the first five minutes — as they had promised earlier.

However, they did that against another promise of theirs. The leaders of the SJF, including Devi Singh Bhati, who was taken into preventive custody on Saturday had gone on record that they would make their presence felt if only the address of the Prime Minister did not carry any assurance on their demands on reservation to the poor among the backwards. They did not wait for Mr. Vajpayee to say that.

Mr.Vajpayee acknowledged their presence saying : "unko jo kehna tha who kah diya aur hame jitna samjhana woh samajh liya" (what they wanted to say they have said; what I had to understand I understood).

Even as the Prime Minister started speaking after Ms. Scindia, finished her address, a group sporting white banners demanding reservation surfaced. Such groups located in other corners of the ground too started shouting slogans distracting the media focus from Mr. Vajpayee.

The police resorted to a mild lathi-charge and took into custody a few dozen youths. The Superintendent of Police (South), Sanjay Agarwal, said cases have been registered against 11 persons in this regard.

Once the public meeting was over, Mr. Bhati's supporters got more belligerent shouting slogans and pulling down welcome arches.