NAGPUR, Maharashtra — Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been hailed as a “21st-century Ambedkar” by some BJP members for providing 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker section in the general category. However, many of his own party members, especially those belonging to scheduled castes, do not seem in complete agreement with this decision.
At the Bharatiya Janata Party’s two-day long “Anusuchit Jati Sammelan” (scheduled caste conclave) in Nagpur, many members of the party’s Anusuchit Jati Morcha (scheduled caste wing) told HuffPost India that there was no consultation within the party before announcing the quota for dominant castes.
The Union Cabinet approved the 10% reservation on 7 January. The Parliament subsequently passed a bill to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to include a clause allowing for this reservation, which the Modi called a “landmark moment” in the country’s history.
“There was no discussion and we were not consulted by the party before making this move. We had no idea about it until the announcement,” said Kiran Kshirsagar, the president of BJP’s SC Morcha in the Pune Cantonment Assembly segment of Maharashtra.
Kshirsagar, however, thinks that the PM has done the right thing by bringing dominant castes under the reservation umbrella “because now there will be less opposition to reservation for backward castes”.
“Senior leaders in the party must have been consulted before announcing this decision,” said Ganesh Kamble, Kshirsagar’s colleague from Pune.
When asked why the reservation was announced just before the upcoming Lok Sabha election, Kamble had no answer.
While BJP’s Dalit workers from Maharashtra appeared guarded in their response, some workers from Chhattisgarh openly criticised the party and its leadership for the decision.
“Of course, it (the decision to give reservation to dominant castes) has been taken with an eye on Lok Sabha election and we will face problems when we go for canvassing in elections,” a women officer-bearer of the BJP’s SC wing in Chhattisgarh said.
She argued that reservations did not really solve problems.
“Look at our society. I have two sons who are both highly educated but are searching for jobs. They are not getting any jobs despite being in the reserved category,” she explained.
Another women worker of the BJP’s SC wing in Chhattisgarh said that most of the government jobs in group A and B were with the “Savarnas” (dominant castes) already.
“Our party lost in Chhattisgarh because of such promises. That defeat should have served as a warning but they are again going ahead with similar decisions,” she said.
Kavi Raj, the Allahabad district president of BJP’s SC wing, doesn’t see anything wrong in providing reservation to dominant castes.
“We are okay with it as long as it doesn’t affect our reservation,” Raj said.
“It is good as long as it doesn’t affect the prevailing scheme of reservation. Nothing has been taken from us,” said Haridev Dhuria, a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh.
When asked if the quota on economic basis will alter the pre-existing reservation policy, Shyam Narayan, the president of BJP’s SC wing in Gazipur district of UP, said, “Social reality is changing now. Our party believes in ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ which is why we are not leaving anyone out.”
The party’s Dalit workers from UP, however, are worried about someone else replacing Modi as the Prime Minister after this Lok Sabha election.
“Today’s BJP is different. Earlier, it was only the ‘Brahmin-Bania’ party. Now there is a place for everyone. Modi ji has brought this change. He came to UP and became one of our own. There is talk that Gadkari might replace him after the election. If a Brahmin from Nagpur replaces him (Modi), the BJP might again become the ‘Brahmin-Bania’ party,” a Dalit leader of BJP’s SC wing in Uttar Pradesh said, requesting anonymity.
The UP party workers believe that the SP-BSP alliance in the state will have no impact on elections as “it is an alliance of leaders, not party workers”.
“The BSP workers do not support this move of Mayawati. They have still not forgotten the guest house incident. They won’t work with SP workers in this election,” said Lallan Pasi, Mahamantri of the BJP’s SC wing in UP’s Gazipur district.
The RSS’s top decision-making body is mostly made up of Brahmins. However, most of the BJP’s Dalit workers say there is no casteism within the party or its ideological parent. They felt that the Congress used Dalits as a vote bank.