M A I N   N E W S

PM cautious on quota
* Says implementation will need infrastructure

* To consult UPA partners * Divisions to the fore
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 20
Even as the Congress Working Committee (CWC) today witnessed sharp exchanges on the volatile reservations issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned its members that the extension of quotas for OBCs in Centrally-funded educational institutions may not be possible immediately.

Speaking for the first time on this issue, Dr. Singh maintained that he will start consulting UPA partners on the recommendations made by the Pranab Mukherjee-headed GoM but warned that implementation of new quotas will require additional infrastructure in the professional institutions, which will entail an extra expense of at least Rs.8,000 crore. All this, he said, cannot happen overnight and will need time.

While Dr. Singh stuck a note of caution, the divisions in the party on this emotive issue came to the fore during the discussions. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the GOM on the reservations issue, said the panel had taken into account the interests of all sections of the student community and made a strong pitch for extension of quotas to OBCs on the ground that it was commitment made in Parliament.

This was countered by senior leader Devendra Dwivedi who made out a strong legal case against the government’s latest move. According to him, the Constitutional amendment, passed by Parliament, would be struck down by the courts. It is learnt that this led to a prolonged and heated argument between the two leaders as each stood his ground.

Mrs Margaret Alva and Mr.M.L.Fotedar, party insiders, concurred with Mr Dwivedi with the latter stating that this issue was creating fissures and confrontation in society.

Backing the government proposal, Mr Ajit Jogi maintained that quotas may be introduced at the earliest in some institutions which already have the requisite infrastructure or else it will send out a wrong signal that the government is backtracking on its promise.

As tempers ran high and the situation threatened to get out of hand, senior leaders Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi had to intervene to put an end to this discussion.

Speaking at the end of the discussion, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh, who has been in the eye of a storm on this matter, explained that there had been a concerted move to malign him on the ground that he was pursuing a personal agenda.

The minister, who came armed with a detailed note, pointed out that he was actually implementing the agenda of the Congress party and the Parliament. He also made it a point to place on record that he had taken both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister into confidence before going ahead with this proposal.

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who has not said anything on this issue since the quota controversy erupted, did not air her views but instead chose to play safe by inviting suggestions from the floor.

Besides the reservations issue, the CWC meeting also discussed the recent assembly poll results and the upcoming second round table on Kashmir. Briefing reporters after the meeting, party spokesperson Ambika Soni said the Prime Minister presented a detailed account of the government’s Kashmir policy and the various measures initiated in the state to restore confidence among the people.

He said that fresh efforts were being made to ensure that the Hurriyat Conference participates in the conference being held in Srinagar on May 24 and 25. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was a special invitee at today’s meeting, also briefed the CWC about the situation in the state.


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