In response to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati’s remark that reservation should be extended to the private sector, the Congress Monday stood divided on the issue with some leaders supporting the call and others downplaying or rejecting it.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Parliament speech on Monday, Ms.Mayawati said that the Prime Minister “should have dwelt on extending reservation to the Backward Castes in the private sector.”
“Reservation to poor people from upper castes is also needed,” she said.
Reacting to the statement, senior Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed told The Hindu that Congress had always supported the idea but the BJP’s “ambiguous stand on the issue” in the UPA-I and UPA-II regimes had scuttled its progress.
“If the bill [that ensures reservation in private sector] is tabled in Parliament,” Mr. Ahmed said, “we’ll certainly support it.”
Prior to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress was desperate to unseat the BJP, it introduced what they called “affirmative action” as a pre-poll promise. As the party won the elections and came to power, it slowly developed cold shoulder toward the pledge. The party leadership and the trade unions stood divided on the issue.
Though the promise to extend reservation to the private sector can bring electoral fortunes, with Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh scheduled for 2017, the Congress is not tinkering with it.
A senior Congress leader said that several leaders in the party felt that affirmative action in private jobs could turn the country’s private sector into a “laggard.”
“From an economical standpoint, it’ll be a narrow-minded approach. And from a moralistic position, I think a lot has to be done to alleviate SC/ST communities’ situation but that doesn’t mean we should compromise on merit. We can always find a middle path, which could be something like private enterprises supporting SC/ST youths in setting up small businesses.”
So far, apart from Mr. Ahmed, several Congress leaders The Hindu contacted for a comment said that the party would not like to talk about the issue.
“Our main focus is on the intolerance debate and GST Bill and nothing else,” one leader said.