Interview with V.P. Singh.
FORMER Prime Minister V.P. Singh, the original mastercraftsman of Mandal politics, says the only solution now is for the government to conduct a caste census to decide the Other Backward Classes population as the Supreme Court wants. "Don't disturb the present situation, but conduct a caste census in one year's time," he told Frontline in between hectic campaigning for the elections in Uttar Pradesh, visits to the Election Commission, and dialysis sessions (which he has every alternate day). Excerpts from the interview:
With the government struggling for a proper response to the Supreme Court stay on the reservation for the OBCs in higher educational institutions and with the start of the admission process in these institutions, what should be done now?
The government has not at all handled the issue properly. Otherwise this situation would not have arisen in the first place. The only solution now for the government is to conduct a caste census, finish it in one year's time and in the interim go ahead with the existing policy, as it exists for reservation in jobs, and implement the reservation policy as per the present decision. The government should respect the court order, but, simultaneously, it should continue with the policy of reservation.
When you implemented reservation for the OBCs, there were no data other than the 1931 Census data, and the Supreme Court ratified your decision. How did you get around this issue?
I was fortunate in the sense that the issue of data did not arise then. The Supreme Court had not said anything on this. But now that this question has been raised, there must be a caste census.
Why is it that after 1931 no caste census has been conducted? Do you think it was because successive governments thought it could create caste divisions and give rise to disharmony?
Why there has never been a caste census is a long story, which cannot be narrated in such a short time. It has been debated and discussed. As for creating disharmony in society, it may or may not be true, but now that the court wants it, the government should let them have it. After all, the court's decision has to be respected.
But has not the issue of reservation come to be associated with vote-bank politics, something that the Supreme Court has also commented upon?
It is not proper for me to comment on what the Supreme Court has commented, but it is the issue of social justice which is uppermost as far as the reservation policy is concerned. Why should one dilute its importance by dubbing it as "vote-bank politics"? It is essentially an issue for doing justice to all sections of society, including the poor among the upper castes. Reservation is not only about vote banks, it is more about democracy, in which the people's will should be supreme. Parliament, which reflects the people's will, had adopted a unanimous resolution to implement reservation. So why deride it as vote-bank politics?
Shortly after the Supreme Court's decision, you said a referendum should be held to decide the issue. Do you still think that is a solution?
I have just given one solution. How many more solutions do you want? Referendum means the people's will and that is what a unanimous resolution by Parliament reflects.