Debating India


Arjun Singh is gently reined in

Thursday 18 May 2006, by KAUSHAL*Pradeep, VARGHESE*George K.

NEW DELHI, May 17: HRD Minister Arjun Singh, seen as running away with the quota ball, was roped in by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today in an informal committee of three senior ministers to defuse the growing tension and work out the details of what the Government had said will be a “mechanism to satisfy all sections of the society.”

Besides Arjun Singh, the panel will have Defence Minister and the effective No 2 in the Cabinet, Pranab Mukherjee, and Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

Although no time limit has been set for the committee, sources said that the Government is seeing this as an “opportunity” to usher in some key reforms in the education sector, including upgrade of infrastructure.

One of the proposals being discussed is the “gradual” introduction of quotas in step with increase in seats.

Politically, sources said, the panel also will “check” Arjun Singh from forcing the pace of a complex and sensitive issue as he has been doing ever since his sudden pre-election quota announcement.

The HRD Minister has cleverly positioned himself as the sole spokesman for the Government on the issue and given the compulsions of electoral politics, nobody can openly counter his rhetoric. Now that two other ministers have been taken on board, there is a feeling in the party that a more “holistic” view will be taken-and seen to be taken.

Also, the panel gives the government elbow room on the issue and lets it buy time as it works out the nuances. This, the government hopes, will lower the temperature.

Evidence of this came in the evening when the Congress decided to call off a meeting of the Forum of OBC MPs.

This provoked non-Cong members to allege that the Congress had “sabotaged” the meeting to avoid discussion on the controversial quotas.

Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao, convenor of the forum, conveyed to MPs that since the govt was “seized of the issue at the highest level,” nothing should be done to precipitate the crisis and the meeting was cancelled.

But RJD MP Ramkripal Yadav, SP MP Ram Gopal Yadav and BJP MP Santosh Gangwar and nearly 15 others had reached the annexe at the scheduled time of 6 pm.

Rao is said to have tried to placate SP-RJD MPs saying the government would take a decision soon. Ramkripal Yadav then called RJD chief Laloo Yadav who suggested to wait until the weekend.

We will wait for two or maximum three days. If the government doesn’t come out with a positive decision by then, we shall go ahead with the meeting whether the Congress agrees or not,” Ramkripal Yadav said.

Today’s OBC meeting, if it had happened, would have caused an embarrassment for the government and the Congress, given the fact that its leaders are party MPs.

Earlier, Arjun Singh, in Parliament, reiterated that ??there is no question of going back on the commitment made by Parliament’’ on reservations.

His ministerial colleague Laloo Prasad Yadav loudly endorsing every word of his, Arjun Singh said the Opposition ??should forget that there are differences on this issue.’’

Amid protests from Congress, DMK and RJD, BJP leader V K Malhotra called the lathi-charge on medical students a “shameful blot on democracy.’’

Attacking Arjun Singh’s statement, Malhotra said: “Why did he make the (quota) announcement?...Why is Sonia Gandhi silent? Why is the Prime Minister quiet? Pranabji says one thing, Sibalji (Kapil) says another.’’


See online : The Indian Express

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