Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi got a snub from the party on Wednesday with Sonia Gandhi rejecting his suggestion for ending quota based on caste saying there should be "no doubt or ambiguity" over the party's stand of continuing the system of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs.
"The empowerment of SCs, STs and OBCs has been an article of faith with the Congress.
"There should be no doubt or ambiguity on the stand of the Congress on the system of reservation for SC/ST and OBCs. They were introduced by Congress, they have been strengthened by the Congress and they will continue to be championed by the Congress," Gandhi said in a two-page statement.
Her statement was apparently aimed at damage control in the wake of Dwivedi's remarks stirring up a political row with Opposition as well as UPA's outside supporters Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party condemning the AICC general secretary's views projecting the same as Congress policy.
The discomfiture in the party over Dwivedi's remarks coming months before the next Lok Sabha polls was palpable and Congress and the government were quick to distance themselves from the remark, saying it was his "personal" view.
In her statement, Gandhi said that Congress is of the "firm opinion" that the system of reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs must continue.
"This is essential to deal with the discrimination imposed by centuries of subjugation and oppression," she said.
Amid uproar in Parliament over the issue, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla said in the Rajya Sabha, "The government is not considering any proposal to provide reservation based on economic criteria. The reservation as it stands today will continue as per constitutional provision."
Seeking to make it clear that the party was not agreeable to Dwivedi's proposal, Gandhi recalled that in the 2009 Lok Sabha manifesto, Congress had pledged to carve out reservations for economically weaker sections of all communities "without prejudice to existing reservation for SCs/STs and OBCs. A dialogue on this has already been initiated."
In an interview, Dwivedi favoured an end to reservation on caste lines and urged Rahul Gandhi to introduce quota for financially weaker sections bringing all communities under its ambit.
Gandhi in her statement said, "It is the Congress that introduced the system of reservation for SC/ST in government employment and educational institutions as well as elected bodies way back in early 1950s.
"It is the Congress, which introduced reservations for OBCs in government employment and educational institutions in the mid 1990s and later."
Noting that Congress believes in true equality of opportunity for everyone, she said the party has introduced two bills to strengthen the framework of reservations. The bills include the SC/ST (Reservation in post and services) bill as also a Constitution Amendment bill aimed at providing reservation in promotion.
Gandhi recalled that Congress had also launched massive scholarship schemes and today over one crore youths belonging to SCs/STs and OBCs are beneficiaries of these schemes every month.
Besides she said that the party has put in place policies that will encourage procurement of goods and services by government agencies from enterprises promoted by SCs and STs.
She also said that the party is committed to bringing in a central legislation on SC Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan and it has also initiated a national dialogue for ensuring affirmative action for SC and ST in the private sector.
At the AICC official briefing, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said they support, adhere and subscribe to the existing policy.
The issue generated a lot of heat inside and outside Parliament.
SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav said Congress is trying to end the social justice system in the country while BSP chief Mayawati demanded that the Congress must make its stand clear on the issue.
BJP also chose to question the timing of the move saying the "revolutionary idea" should have come long ago.