While the BJP and the Congress welcomed the Supreme Court judgment upholding the 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections in the general category — with both parties claiming credit for introducing the 103rd amendment to the Constitution that provides for the quota — regional parties, especially those with roots in social justice movements, were divided.
The DMK in Tamil Nadu called it “gross injustice” and “against the principles of social justice” while the JD(U) and the BSP welcomed the verdict. The RJD, a party that has opposed the EWS quota in the past, used the opportunity to renew its call for a caste census, saying the “judgment opens the possibility of increasing the quota for backward castes proportionate to their share in the population”.
In a 3-2 split verdict on Monday, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Constitution’s 103rd Amendment Act, 2019.
Terming the judgment a “victory” for Narendra Modi’s “mission” to provide social justice for the poor, BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said, “Modiji has proved that the BJP’s goal of Antyodaya could be done without snatching away the rights of any community. The purpose of this move (the Constitutional amendment) was to empower the poor, strengthen them and bring them out of poverty.”
BJP general secretary (organisation) B L Santosh called the verdict “another big credit for PM Narendra Modi’s vision of Gareeb Kalyan” and a “big boost in the direction of social justice”.
The Congress, too, claimed credit for the Constitutional amendment that provides for the 10% quota. In a statement welcoming the judgment, AICC general secretary in-charge of communication Jairam Ramesh said, “The Amendment itself was the result of a process initiated by the Manmohan Singh government in 2005-06 with the appointment of the Sinho Commission that submitted its report in July 2010. Thereafter, widespread consultations were held and the Bill was ready by 2014. It took the Modi sarkar five years to get the Bill enacted.” The party also reiterated its support for a caste based census.
The RJD, too, called for a caste census, with its MP Manoj Jha telling The Indian Express, “This is a split verdict. It opens many avenues and possibilities of interpretation and intervention… The ceiling has gone now and so, it (reservation) should be proportionate to share in population. Governments are meant to deepen and broaden social justice. This judgment has opened that possibility.”
Supporting the judgment, senior JDU leader and Bihar Finance Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary said in Patna, “Bihar was one of the pioneering states to introduce EWS quota (in 1978). What the SC said is very much in consonance with CM Nitish Kumar’s policies. We are in favour of an economic criterion for reservation.”
The JD(U) joined hands with ally RJD on the issue of population-based reservation, with party leader KC Tyagi saying, “We don’t oppose the RJD proposal. We have already started caste census in Bihar and it must happen across the country.”
The most vociferous opposition to the verdict, however, came from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK chief M K Stalin, who called it “a setback to the century-old fight for social justice”.
Calling all political parties supporting social justice to come together, Stalin said, “Since the Union government first proposed the quota in 2019, we have been battling it in court. Today’s order has been a significant setback. We will consult with legal experts and carry out our efforts to defend India’s social justice systems.”
The CPI(M), a party that had supported the amendment in Parliament, though it had raised several questions then, on Monday demanded that the Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria set by the government for the EWS quota be revised and lowered so that only the needy get the benefit.
In UP, the BSP, too claimed credit for the Constitutional amendment, with party spokesperson Dharamveer Chaudhary saying, “This (the quota) has been a longstanding demand of the party. Behenji (Mayawati) was the first to write a letter to the government demanding such a quota, following which the constitutional amendment was brought in. SCs, STs and OBCs already have a quota, so it is good that the poor among the general category will also get the benefit of reservations.”
The party had supported the legislation in 2019, though party chief Mayawati called it an “election stunt”.
The BJD, too, welcomed the verdict. “The party had supported the legislation in Parliament. The Supreme Court has upheld it now. We welcome it,” BJD MP Pinaki Mishra said.
TMC MP Sougat Roy called the verdict “good for democracy”. “As a result (of the verdict), the financially weaker among the upper-castes will benefit. The verdict will go a long way in bringing economic equality to the society,” he said.
There was support for the verdict from some of the regional parties in the South.
“We supported the Bill in Parliament… It is necessary for the upliftment of the poor among the forward classes. We are already implementing it in education,’’ TRS politburo member B Vinod Kumar said.
YSRCP leader and Social Welfare Minister in Andhra Pradesh M Nagarjuna said the state government had started implementing EWS reservation in educational institutions soon after forming the government in June 2019.