It was clear, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-run government decided to bring a Constitutional Amendment Bill to introduce what is being called an upper-caste quota in Parliament the day before the Winter Session was about to end, that this was a last-minute effort. But just how last-minute has become clear from a Lok Sabha reply by the same ministry that eventually moved the legislation.
On January 8, the junior minister for social justice and empowerment tabled a reply to a question from a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha. The question asked whether “the Government is exploring the scope of providing reservation for poor candidates from forward communities for education and employment. The response was short: “At present, no such proposal is under consideration.”
This came despite the fact that a day prior, on January 7, the Union Cabinet had cleared a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would enable the government to do just that – provide reservation to poor candidates from forward communities, which is being referred to as an ‘upper-caste quota’. Indeed on the same day that the reply was given to the Lok Sabha, the government tabled and passed the Constitutional Amendment. The Rajya Sabha then extended its session by a day, so that it could pass the amendment on January 9.
In a matter of three days, the proposal – of which there had been no public discussion or announcement in the preceding months – made its way through the Union Cabinet, through the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
According to the Economic Times, the proposal itself was also put together in an extreme hurry. According to an unnamed senior minister, the proposal “was framed in just a day... and guarded with utmost secrecy from even Cabinet ministers.” According to this report, the Law Ministry was still vetting the proposal as of January 8 morning, the same day the law was then tabled and passed in the Lok Sabha. This aspect of the government’s actions – introducing it so late in the Session and seeking to pass it in an extreme hurry, received much criticism from other parties, although almost none voted against it.
Why the government acted so suddenly on the move remains a matter of speculation. The obvious connection is being drawn to elections – both the recently concluded polls in three North Indian states, all of which the BJP lost, as well as impending general elections, which are due by May. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has produced a similar secretive rabbit out of his hat before, with the surprise demonetisation announcement in 2016, and many in New Delhi expect the Centre to announce more last-minute policies before the model code of conduct is put in place ahead of general elections.
Scroll.in has been extensively reporting on the politics around the Quota Bill. Read all of our coverage here.