Both, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress President Smt Sonia Gandhi are very busy persons and may not have much time to read old documents and hence this respectful attempt to help them out.
First, may one point out to a paragraph in a circular to the presidents of all Pradesh Congress Committees issued by none else than Jawaharlal Nehru, on May 26, 1954. That paragraph said: ?In particular, we must fight whole-heartedly against those narrow divisions which have grown up in our country in the name of caste, which weaken the unity, solidarity and progress of the country…?
When the British government sought to give separate electorates to the Scheduled Castes, Gandhi went on a hunger strike ?that is old history now?which ended in the Poona Pact in 1932. Some seven and a half decades later, on September 6, 1990 Rajiv Gandhi made a similar, though not as sensational, effort to promote national unity in a speech in the Parliament criticising the Mandal Report, lasting, to his eternal credit, some two and a half hours.
Rajiv Gandhi, like the Mahatma before him, was not opposed to enabling the Scheduled Castes, make progress in all fields. Addressing the Lok Sabha he said: ?If you believe in a casteless society, every major step you take must be such that you move towards a casteless society. And you must avoid taking any step which takes you to a caste-ridden society. Unfortunately, the step that we are taking today (accepting the Mandal Report), the manner in which it has been put, is a casteist formula. While accepting that caste is a reality, we must dilute that formula and break that formula by adding something on to it.?
Attacking the then Janata Prime Minister V.P.Singh whom he charged with not having the guts to stand up and say whether he believes in a casteless society or not, Rajiv Gandhi said: ?This government is creating a vested interest in casteism and the country is going to pay a very high price for it.?
The Mandal Commission had recommended that ?with a view to give better representation to certain backward sections of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) like Gaddis in Himachal Pradesh. Neo-Buddhists in Maharashtra, fishermen in the coastal areas, Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir?, areas of their concentration ?may be carved out into separate constituencies at the time of de-limitation.? An angry Rajiv Gandhi shot out: ?Does the government subscribe to the Mandal Commission view that political constituencies should be carved out on a caste basis? Are we going back to the Round Table Conference for having separate electorates? That was designed to break our country, Sir.?
Warming up in his address, Rajiv Gandhi said that ?even at this late hour (and this was in 1990) there is time to pull the country back from this caste division… Ministers are provoking caste wars.? Continuing, he said: ?The Raja Saheb's(V.P. Singh) statement do not command wide acceptance in the country. They (the Ministers) have weakened our national fabric and to add to that, the Central Government, the Ministers, have deliberately provoked the cast confrontation and caste wars…? Rajiv Gandhi said that ?an issue like reservation cannot be treated in a piecemeal manner. We must look at the whole picture.? He quoted Mandal himself who had said that ?the aim is to overcome historical and geographical handicaps, not to create new vested interests? and admitting that ?the categorisation of backward classes has always been difficult.?
The concept of ?Other Backward Castes? has always been a joke. Attacking the Mandal Report, Rajiv Gandhi had said: ?I know for a fact the Reddys are included, Vakkaligas are included, Kammas are included, Lingayats are included, Gounders are included, Chettiyars are included. Are these Backward Castes? Do they need help??
Shri Chidambaram was not around then but were he there, he would no doubt have had a good laugh. He would properly have been described as belonging to the OBCs. Asked Rajiv Gandhi: ?On what basis has the Mandal Commission defined caste? How has the Mandal Commission reinterpreted the Constitution and changed Backward classes to Backward Caste?? Rajiv Gandhi noted even the Mandal Commission Report had noted that of those whose views were sought on the reservation issue, only 28 per cent of the respondents favoured caste as the sole criterion and that nearly 70 per cent were in favour of evolving ?multiple criteria based on social status, political influences, educational attainments, economic level, employment status? etc. ? Even, according to Mandal, ? most of the respondents who were OBCs have said that they do not want caste as the single definer…?
Rajiv Gandhi reminded the Lok Sabha of an earlier Kakasaheb Kalelkar report which had said that the upliftment of the Backward Classes are extremely wide-ranging and comprehensive and covered such diverse fields as extensive land reforms, reorganisation of the economy, Bhoodaan Movement, development of live-stock, dairy farming, cattle insurance, bee-keeping, piggeries, fisheries, development of rural and cottage industries, rural housing, public health, rural water supply, adult literacy, university education etc. And for good measure he added: ?Do we want the benefit that the government is giving to be cornered by the ministers or the sons of ministers or the families thereof? Do we want the benefits that are being given by the government to be cornered by big landlords and people who have a lot of property? Why do we not exclude the people with a certain number of properties form such benefits? Do we want these benefits to go to high senior government officers who have already got that privilege? Government is aiming these benefits at a peculiarly privileged group and not looking at the really poor.?
This is Rajiv Gandhi'smuch-interrupted speech in summary. Rajiv Gandhi quoted V.P.Singh as having told a newspaper that implementation of the Mandal Commission Report ?was purely a political strategy?. And he went on to say: ?Raja Saheb's(V.P.Singh?s) policies are not very different form what the Britishers were doing. It was the British who tried to divide our country on caste and religion and today it is the Raja Saheb sitting there, who is trying to divide our country on caste and religion…Already you are taking this country towards religious electorates. First you are dividing into reservations in jobs. This government is taking the country in this direction.? Are you reading this, Soniaji? Are you reading this Dr Manmohan Singh? Kindly read the Parliamentary proceedings in full and carefully. Rajiv Gandhi believed in the unity of this country. Are you?