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Today in Politics: Sonia Gandhi likely to open for Congress in women’s quota Bill debate, party sharpens social justice pitch

The focus will remain on Parliament today as the debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill continues. Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi, according to sources, is likely to be the party’s lead speaker.

As reported by Manoj CG, the Congress has shifted its stand on reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the Bill. It is the same party that had failed to push the Bill through in its 2010 avatar because it did not want to accept socialist parties’ demand for quota within quota for women from backward groups. On Tuesday, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge set the stage for the party’s OBC pitch and it was followed by comments from senior leaders, including general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal. With this, the party is aligned with the rest of its partners in the INDIA alliance such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).

The Congress’s shift in stand is not a sudden one and has been in the making for some time. The INDIA parties are likely to tie in the OBC quota demand in the women’s quota Bill with their push for a caste census. In short, it seems social justice will be one of the Opposition alliance’s chief weapons in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2024. This politics of social justice and OBC consolidation, or Mandal 2.0 as some political commentators have put it, will be the INDIA parties’ answer to the BJP’s Hindutva plank.

During the election campaign in Karnataka earlier this year, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi gave the slogan “Jitni abaadi, utna haq (however much the population, that much rights)”, giving his own spin to the slogan that Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram first put across: “Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedari (Share as per one’s strength).” By making a case for a caste census, Rahul lent his voice to the demand of Hindi heartland parties such as the Janata Dal (United), RJD, and SP.

The social justice push also makes sense for the Opposition parties as the BJP is uncomfortable with the idea of a caste census as it could open a Pandora’s box and see various caste groups start demanding reservation according to their population. The BJP fears a division on caste lines weakening the very idea of an overarching Hindu unity.

However, not everyone on the INDIA bandwagon is on board with the idea. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is waiting for Mamata Banerjee to return from her visit abroad before making its stand official. But, TMC MP Sougata Roy has told The Indian Express, “Our leader Mamata Banerjee has already said that we are opposed to the caste census. We believe that such census will create division among the people.”

Meanwhile, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will hold a meeting with all MPs and Union Ministers from Karnataka in the national capital on Wednesday, to discuss issues concerning the state, especially the release of Cauvery river water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The CM is likely to urge the Union Ministers and MPs to use their good offices to seek the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union government on the Cauvery issue.

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The meeting comes two days after the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) directed Karnataka to continue releasing 5,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu for another 15 days. The Karnataka government has said it will approach the Supreme Court against the CWMA order and Deputy CM D K Shivakumar, who also holds the water resources portfolio, has also announced he will travel to Delhi to meet parliamentarians from the state and seek their support.

In previous decades, the non-compromising stands of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments on the issue have triggered conflict between the two states. This had dialled down since legal frameworks were created for both states to address their concerns after the Supreme Court firmed up a water-sharing resolution in 2018. But, faced with water distress, the Siddaramaiah government has increasingly come under political pressure over the lack of water for its own sugarcane and paddy farmers while being forced to release water for irrigation purposes in Tamil Nadu.

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In Andhra Pradesh, the High Court has reserved its decision on former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s petition to quash an FIR against him in the Skill Development Corporation case and the judgment is expected either today or tomorrow.

— With PTI inputs

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