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"Reservation in private sector is necessary and inevitable. Otherwise there will be an uproar’

Sunday 6 August 2006

Union Minister for Chemicals, Fertilisers and Steel, Ram Vilas Paswan entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1977 (for the highest vote margin) when he first entered the Lok Sabha winning Hajipur in Bihar. Since then, he has slowly emerged as an important player on the national scene. The 59-year-old was a part of the United Front government, a minister in the NDA and is currently with the UPA. He took time off to talk with The Indian Express team over lunch at the Express office. Excerpts:

27 PC RESERVATION TO OBCs: The UPA is committed to give 27 per cent reservation to OBCs in premier institutes of the country. And this will be implemented. But there are some practical problems regarding implementation of reservations in one go. So I think that OBC reservations should not be made a matter of false pride. If sufficient infrastructure is not immediately available, then introducing the entire quota by June 2007 should not be insisted upon, and there must be a phased approach. We should be practical and flexible.

RESERVATION IN PRIVATE SECTOR: Reservation in private sector is necessary and inevitable. Otherwise, there will be an uproar. Dalits and tribals have no land or no business. They are dependent on public-sector jobs. After liberalisation, there were many companies privatised, for example Maruti. While these companies had reservations when they were in the public sector, once privatised, there was no provision for reservation. I am sure that there would be reservation in private sector. It may be in one go or in phases but this is inevitable because in democracy every vote has an equal value.

SOCIAL AWAKENING: There is social awakening among the Dalits and tribals. And their feeling of isolation from the social mainstream is much less. For instance, the DMK today does not talk about the kind of issues it did in the past. This is all due to the fact that it has a share in power at the Centre and is part of a national coalition.

The inferiority complex (among Dalits) is because of what they have gone through. For example, when Babasaheb Ambedkar would deliver a speech, one got the feeling that he was breathing fire. Once, Jawaharlal Nehru complained about this to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji told Nehruji that he should also take into account that Babasaheb Ambedkar was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth like Nehru was.

CONFRONTATION IN SOCIETY: Shuroo ke stage main niche ka chattan upar uthna chahta tha to upar ka chattan use niche dabana chahta tha. Aur isi tarah jwalamukhi phootata hai (In the beginning, when the lower castes want to come up, the castes higher in the social order protest. The resulting tension leads to a volcano erupting).

DALIT VOTE IN BIHAR: It is not true that Bihar does not have a Dalit leader like Mayawati in UP. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) got 15 per cent vote share in the last two elections in Bihar. This couldn’t have been possible without the overwhelming support of Dalits. When Ram Vilas Paswan was with the NDA in the 1999 General Election, the alliance managed to win 40 of the 54 seats in Bihar. The RJD could only win seven seats. Even RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav lost from Madhepura after he lost the support of Dalits there. But after I resigned from the NDA over the Gujarat riots, in the last General Election, Laluji and I fought together and we bagged 31 to 32 seats out of the now 40 seats in Bihar. So the SC and ST votes, without doubt, are united in Bihar under the LJP banner.

DALIT LEADERSHIP: Today Mayawati is the leader of the Dalits in UP. We are in Bihar and the Republican Party is leading Dalits in Maharashtra. But there are many states where Dalits are in sizeable numbers, such as West Bengal (23 per cent) and Punjab (29 per cent), but there is no significant Dalit leader there. But even among the upper caste groups, tell me who is the all-India leader of Rajputs or Brahmins?

NATIONAL DALIT PLATFORM: It is not right to say there is no all-India Dalit platform. Today if a Bill is presented in Parliament over reservations in private sector, all Dalits, irrespective of the party they are in, will favour it even if their party issues a whip against it. I can give you an example of killings of 32 Dalits in south India. 113 MPs wanted to meet then president, R Venkataraman. But he said he could only meet 11 MPs as per convention. That very day, we announced that we would not visit Rashtrapati Bhawan unless there was a Dalit president. And then, the sidelined K R Narayanan was put up for Vice-President.

COMING ELECTIONS IN UP: No party in UP is going to touch the magic figure. In that case, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati will have to look for support. Mulayam will have to choose between the Congress and the BJP.

MAYAWATI: Oh yes, Mayawati is my Enemy No. 1 in UP. Kanshi Ram floated the BSP based on an ideology and tried to unite the Dalits in UP. They also raised the slogan against Manuwadis, but now Mayawati is taking about ??Hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai’’. This has confused and shocked the Dalits in UP and they are unhappy with Mayawati. She has also introduced money in politics in a big way and the amount of money decides whether you will be given a ticket or not.

CREAMY LAYER AMONG DALITS: It is not justified to talk about the creamy layer among Dalits. But yes I am in favour of giving preference to those who are weaker among Dalits. For instance, Ram Vilas ke bete ko pahla mauka nahin milna chahiye (Ram Vilas’s son should not be given first preference). First, the more needy should be offered and if there are not many takers among them then this should be given to those better off among Dalits.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS VS SOCIAL JUSTICE: A poor upper caste man is tan ka gharib, that is only poor-he has not lost his self-esteem. But a poor Dalit is man ka gharib, which means he has been stripped of his self-respect. Where jobs come in is that, after a Dalit becomes a daroga, for example, he finds people saluting him, and that gives him a sense of self-worth.

ABOLISHING RESERVATION: Reservation should be ended if there are equal opportunities for all. That is why I have said that we should provide equal facilities to all students up to Class X and then abolish reservation. But equal opportunity, via a Comprehensive School System, means all students should be given the same food, clothes and education.

THIRD FRONT: I do not agree with those who talk about the revival of the Third Front because the Third Front by definition is minus the Congress and the BJP, and that is nothing. All the governments of the Third Front were either supported by the Congress or the BJP. V P Singh’s government had the support of the BJP whereas the Deva Gowda and I K Gujral governments were backed by the Congress. The reason is that all political parties, except the Left, are either with the Congress or with the BJP. Even now, though there are rumblings, I doubt if the Government will fall on account of foreign policy.

CONTROLLING DRUG PRICES: I am trying to control the prices of essential drugs, but the people from the drug industry have united against it. They say industry will close down as a result. But we are striving towards it. A Cabinet note has been prepared.

V P SINGH SEEING PASWAN AS PM: He is a well-wisher, I am sure he means well. Everybody has ambition. What is wrong with it?

See online : The Indian Express

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