Pro-reservation groups on collision course

JAIPUR, DEC 19: Elections in Rajasthan are far away. No party is under pressure to rake up a controversy over reservations for OBCs. However, the issue is building up fast, thanks to an intensive campaign by a group of leaders under the banner of the Social Justice Front.

Floated by Lokendra Singh Kalvi, son of former Union minister and Rajput leader Kalyan Singh Kalvi, this combination has managed to attract politicians of all hues. Kalvi was initially backed by only senior BJP leader and MLA Devi Singh Bhati and his ex-MP son Mahendra Singh Bhati. Of late, though, Kalvi has also managed to rope in two Congress MLAs, Udai Singh Rathore and Jitendra Singh, BJP legislator Harish Kumawat, former member-secretary of the State Backward Class Commission Satya Narain Singh and several other little-known caste-leaders.

Just as the casteist contentions of the Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha gained momentum during the last Lok Sabha polls, the leaders of the Front are now articulating the opposite viewpoint. To counter this, the Jat Mahasabha has planned around half-a-dozen public meetings in the state, the first being scheduled for December 23 at Jodhpur.

The Social Justic Front held a massive public meeting at Sikar on Monday. The common refrain of the speakers was that Jats needed to be segregated from others in the OBC list and then placed in a separate category. As for a quota for the upper castes, confusion prevailed. While self-proclaimed leaders of Brahmins and Rajputs justified a quota for themselves, the ``representatives'' of the OBCs qualified this by pledging their support to the idea of reservation for the poor from amongst the upper castes. Thanks to their common opposition to Jats, the leaders present did not feel necessary to sort this issue out among themselves before airing their views in public.

The choice of the venue had strategic importance, given the fact that it was at Sikar that Prime Minister Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi had publicly promised OBC status to Jats during the Lok Sabha poll campaign. While BJP leaders Devi Singh Bhati, Mahendra Singh Bhati and Harish Kumawat turned up, Congress MLAs Udai Singh Rathore and Jitendra Singh stayed away, obviously at the instance of the party leadership which keen on blunting the Jat leaders' allegation that the show was sponsored by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

However, two Samajwadi Party leaders from UP -- MP from the Machchlishahr constituency C.N. Singh and Mukhiya Gujar -- not only made a surprise appearance, they also pledged Mulayam Singh's support to the Front's stand.

However, joining issue with the Front, Jat Mahasabha patron Gyan Prakash Pilania, former Union minister Jagdeep Dhankar and former minister Hari Singh told mediapersons here last week that the Social Justice Front, sponsored by Gehlot, was trying to spread social disharmony. They said the Front, by spewing venom against one community, was guilty of a criminal activity.

Pilania defended this by saying that the Mahasabha advocated reservations for the poor Brahmins, Rajputs and other upper castes. Dhankar, however, pointed out that the involvement of Satya Narain Singh, a former member-secretary of the Backward Class Commission, in the Social Justice Front campaign was improper. With the Front poised to step up its campaign and the Jat Mahasabha deciding to counter it with a parallel programme, Rajasthan seems all set to look forward to a surcharged atmosphere this in winter.

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