Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Saving Constitution and raising quota cap beyond 50% in Congress Manifesto haunts BJP, Modi, Bhagwat


By Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—It is for the first time that the Congress has set the electoral agenda, and BJP and its leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are just following them. It was earlier the BJP whose political existence is based on its mastery over polarizing the electorates by using religious and emotional issues, used to set the political and electoral agenda at least in the last two decades. And Congress simply engaged itself in countering the BJP electoral propaganda, forgetting the party’s own electoral programmes. That gave Congress a bad name and BJP laughed at it by saying the Congress has nothing to offer to the people. In fact, it is the skill of the BJP leaders to divide the Indian society by raking up communal and religious issues that brought the party to national mainstream and won political power at the Centre and in several states.

But the 2024 elections are totally different from the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even since the campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections began and the Congress came out with its comprehensive Election Manifesto-2024, called “Nyaya Patra” (Justice Declaration) and promised to save the Constitution, provide justice to all communities and castes and continue reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs, BJP led by PM Modi has been busy in countering each and every point in Congress party’s electoral manifesto.

This simply indicates that the saffron party which depended on polarizing issues to win elections has no agenda of its own, or it has exhausted all political weapons in its armoury to win the support of the electorates again.  What is important is that the BJP and its chief election campaigner, who is none other than PM Modi himself, seems to have nothing to give to the voters except combating the issues raised by the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi. Modi battling the Congress agenda, point by point, in each and every election rally, indicates that the Congress has raised real problems faced by people and this may seriously harm the prospects of the BJP and also fail the dream of Modi to become PM for the third time.

The BJP and its ideological mentor Sangh Parivar feels rattled about Congress’ promise of nationwide caste-census and go for affirmative action by making a Constitutional amendment to raise the 50 per cent cap on reservations for SC, ST and OBC communities who together account for 70 percent of India’s population. Congress manifesto says that SC, ST and OBC communities account for more than two-thirds of India’s population, but their representation in high-ranking positions, services and businesses is disproportionately very low. Congress promises to remove this inequality through affirmative action of raising the reservation quota for them. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been regularly claiming that the BJP, if voted to power, would change the Constitution which granted reservation rights to poor, Dalits, STs and OBCs. Rahul claims that whatever rights SC, ST and OBC communities have got, it is because of the Constitution drafted under the leadership of B R Ambedkar during the Congress party’s rule.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, who is also Communication chief of the party, claims that RSS has been demanding to change the Constitution since 1949. To substantiate his argument, he quotes an article published in the November 30, 1949 edition of ‘Organiser’ which claims that “there is nothing Bharatiya about the Constitution” and Ramesh interprets it that BJP would change the Constitution if it came to power again. Other INDIA alliance leaders like Sharad Pawar are also raising the same point to create fear and insecurities among the SCs, STS and OBCs with a view to cornering the BJP.

As an undercurrent of fear and insecurity is already perceptible among SCs and others at the lowest rung of the society, BJP leaders feel that the Congress may create a dent in its SC, ST and OBC vote bank that was created so deftly by Sangh Parivar and its offshoots over a long period of time. And if the Congress and its political allies succeed in their strategy, it may cause immense political damage to the BJP in the 2024 elections. However, only the election results on June 4 will tell how far the INDIA alliance strategy has succeeded.

This seems to have prompted Modi to attack the Congress and allege that if the Congress came to power, it would give quota share of SCs, STs and OBCs to Muslims. So, the debate during the current electoral campaign has now shifted from Mandir/emotional issues to saving the Constitution and rights of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs. RSS has finally jumped into the debate to defend the BJP which faces tough challenge from INDIA alliance on this issue. At an event in Hyderabad on April 28, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat sought to assure SCs, STs, and OBCs that BJP would not do anything to snatch quota benefits available to them by saying that “RSS has always stood for quotas as are available and sanctioned under the Constitution.” Mohan Bhagwat had to step in to defend the Congress and other Opposition parties’ attack on the BJP because RSS is the ideological mentor of the saffron party.

But this stand of Mohan Bhagwat is completely in contrast to his earlier opinion on the quota issue. Four years ago, in a speech on April 18, 2019 delivered at an event organized jointly by Shiksha Sanskrit Utthan Nyas and Indira Gandhi National Open University, he had called for review of the reservation policy and suggested for a dialogue between pro and anti-quota supporters to find a solution to the quota controversy. “Pro and anti-quota people should talk. If both the groups talk in a friendly atmosphere, a solution could be found. A dialogue between the two sides is necessary and RSS is trying to do arrange it,” Bhagwat had said.

If RSS is really in favour of reservation, why should Bhagwat talk about a dialogue between pro and anti-quota supporters? Does this not mean that RSS wants to end the reservation? He should have straightaway stated that there was no need for a debate to review the quota and it will continue as such. Instead, he chose to speak about a debate on the quota issue. His statement created a lot of controversy that came a few months before the Bihar assembly elections.

Many BJP leaders have been speaking to abolish the quota on different occasions which was never countered by BJP top brass. This can serve an evidence that BJP is waiting for an opportune moment to scrap quota. Hence, worries of Opposition leaders and many representatives of the quota beneficiaries appear to be genuine that the BJP will exterminate quota system if it comes to power with an absolute majority in this election. Middle class belonging to SC, ST and OBC communities are really very much disturbed about it. But what has prevented them to openly declare opposition to BJP’s hidden agenda of scrapping the quota is the cultural and religious radicalization of a sizeable section of the middle class among them by RSS and its sister organisations. What will be the reaction of these communities if BJP comes to power again and drops the quota all of a sudden reversing the situation to what was their position 75 years ago when these communities did not have constitutional safeguards and had remained at the bottom of social, political and economic hierarchy for centuries? Hence, leaders of the quota communities need to be vigilant with regard to their rights as it will not be easy to get back the rights Congress leaders gave them more than seven decades ago. All credit for progress made by by SCs, STS and OBCs in various fields be given to quota system invented by the Congress.  

Opposition leaders say that the BJP governments at the Centre, and states where it is in power, have already made the quota provisions ineffective by recruiting contractual staff in government departments. They say that there is no provision of reservation in law for hiring of contractual employees and this results in discrimination against SC, ST and OBC communities. University Grants Commission, according to Congress leaders and Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, have come with provisions that allow de-reservation of reserved vacancies in colleges and universities. They allege that even without amending the quota provisions in the Constitution, the BJP government has brought certain laws at different levels in central government and state government institutions that make quota laws meaningless.


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