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10% reservation: 'Superman' in 2014, Modi takes the more familiar route in 2019


New Delhi, Jan 9: In 2014, Narendra Modi had offered the people of India an alternative narrative. In an ambience of hopelessness, thanks to the previous UPA II government's tainted rule, it was easier for Modi and his machinery to erect an image of an alternative that could bring the country back on the tracks. The Congress's indecisiveness of pushing Rahul Gandhi as its own face hurt the Grand-Old Party even more. Modi was seen as a man who only symbolised development and caste identity never became an issue despite the leader himself originating from a OBC background. The "chaiwala" definitely set up the tone for the elections but it was more about a political arm-wrestling between Lutyens' Delhi and an outsider who it saw with derision.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In 2019, Modi's "Vikas Purus" image saw a twist when he announced 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward sections of the upper castes. After the thumping the BJP received in three states in the Hindi heartland last month and the growing dissent over the farmers' crises, it is not too surprising that the BJP top brass chose to go the reservation way for the economically backward (though it is not easy to define backwardness on such criterion) sections of the upper caste. The aim is clearly to consolidate the upper castes, the BJP's electoral trump card, when it is perceiving that the Dalits and other backward classes might not be too pleased with its government's functioning over the last almost five years.

'Landmark moment': PM Modi hails quota bill passage, thanks all parties for support

Electorally, the 10% reservation is a master stroke, but not so for Modi's own image

Electorally, this could be a masterstroke by the BJP leadership to stay ahead of the Opposition for anti-Modi leaders will not gain much by opposing this reservation idea. Even if this new move doesn't materialise ahead of the Lok Sabha election since the time is limited, yet the BJP can tell its supporters that we tried and if it is elected again, it will continue to pursue the same.

But this move does Modi's image a damage. The leader had said during a foreign tour soon after coming to power in 2014 that a government should take its major moves as early as it can after taking charge and not leave it for the last days for that would only make its plan uncertain and look an election bait. In effect, Modi's 10-per cent reservation plan showed that he too did the same: Announce a plan so that it can earn him electoral returns.

'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' and 10% reservation: Can they co-exist?

Modi was seen as a man above caste and reservations. He has been projected and hailed as one who prioritises development and universal uplift. To see such a leader surrendering to the idea of reservation ahead of seeking a fresh mandate (even if not religious, a reservation is a reservation) which betrays the public image of the prime minister. Modi aligned himself with the idea of reservation as his term clawed towards its conclusion. In August last year, he said in an interview that caste-based reservation will stay in India since the goals of BR Ambedkar have still remained unfulfilled.

For a leader who repeatedly stresses on universal development and preaches inclusive slogan like "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas", calling for a 10-per cent reservation looks a bit unfitting.

However, for all political leaders, it is winning the election that ultimately matters.

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