Such is the nature of politics, few parties have the luxury of turning their face away from old rhetoric and earlier positions. So, not surprisingly, the Ram mandir finds mention in the BJP’s manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. But the party has been mindful of the prevailing reality and has responsibly said it stands committed to building a Ram mandir but within the framework of the Constitution. That is, should there be an agreement, the party will build the temple. That is a welcome lowering of temperatures, though it is also true the temple issue is no longer centre-stage today.
If the party’s stand on the Ram temple is sober, what stands out in contrast is its attempt to further push the reservations agenda, apparently regardless of the legal prohibition to raising reservations beyond 49.5% and restricting it to only certain caste groups. Given the large unemployment in the state, and the slow growth in jobs, the BJP manifesto promises a 90% reservation in jobs created by industry set up in the state—it is not clear if this refers to just new industries, but even if it does not extend to existing ones, the promise is problematic. Apart from the fact that it goes above 49.5%, the existing scheme applies only to SC/ST/OBC while the BJP is promising this for the state’s youth; the way the manifesto is worded, this also suggests the reservation will apply to the private sector as well. This is not something that has been done before and has dangerous implications since, the way the reservations’ fires are catching over the past few years, the pro-reservationists demands are being quickly ratcheted up. While few other states copied the Shiv Sena’s Marathi manoos demand in the past, of late Karnataka has come out with 100% reservations for Kannadigas in blue-collar jobs with the exception of IT and biotech; Rajasthan has been trying to find ways to increase reservations for Gujjars, Haryana for Jats and Gujarat for Patidars—this was knocked down by the courts.
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When a national party like the BJP gives in to such demands at the level of a state, not only does this encourage others, it also opens up the possibility of pushing this at the national level—apart from what that does to merit and the country’s competitiveness, that has other law and order implications since it is unlikely the non-backward castes will take kindly to it. What makes the UP manifesto all the more unfortunate is that a party that boasted it came to power at the Centre due to its prime ministerial candidate’s development credentials is now, while promising development—there is a start-up fund being talked of—not averse to stirring the caste cauldron for electoral benefits.