Athawale backs Hardik's quota demand, says will talk to PM (Second Lead)

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Ahmedabad : Union Minister and RPI leader Ramdas Athawale on Friday plumped for Patidar agitation spearhead Hardik Patel and offered to mediate between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in favour of his demand for reservations for the Patidar community, even as he advocated 75 per cent reservations in the country.

Athawale, whose Republican Party of India is an ally in the NDA Government, told reporters here that "my party firmly supports the reservation demand of the Patels in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra, Jats in Haryana, and Gurjars in Rajasthan".

"In the past, I have put up these demands to the central government. Once again, I will do that," the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment said.

Athawale said he was willing to speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and mediate between him and Hardik Patel.

Athawale said, "Hardik should not drift towards Congress. If they want reservation, it will only be possible through the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. I am ready to arrange a meeting between him and Modi for that."

Asked if he would meet Hardik Patel, who is on a fast at his residence for the past six days in support of his demands, the minister said: "I have not met him so far, just shook hands once but that has no meaning. I will try to contact him and may meet him."

Athawale admitted that the BJP lost many seats in the December 2017 State Assembly elections in Gujarat because of the Hardik Patel agitation for reservation to the Patidars in government jobs and educational institutions. However, he claimed a similar trend would not be noticed in the State in the Lok Sabha elections next year.

Simultaneously, the union minister also said, "The BJP may lose two-three Lok Sabha seats out of 26 in the State but not more." In 2014, the ruling party had captured all the 26 seats.

Speaking on reservations, he went on to say that a legislation should be brought in Parliament to increase reservations to 75 per cent to accommodate communities such as the Patidars and others.

"My party firmly believes that such communities should be given 25 per cent reservation from the remaining 50 per cent, without affecting the present quota for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes."

Athawale was in Ahmedabad to discuss reservation status for the De-notified Tribes (DNT), which had been certified by the British as criminal tribes and which consisted of about 10 per cent of the population.

He said though a majority of these tribes had been included in the OBCs, they were not the benefits of reservations. The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry was working on classifying them under a separate quota to ensure they were not left out of the quota benefits.

The minister called it a canard that the NDA Government was gradually working on doing away with reservations in the country and said the Modi dispensation had done the most for the welfare of the Dalits.

Athawale said the Supreme Court may have diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled (Prevention of Atrocities) Act but the Centre had filed a review petition in the apex court to ensure that the law remained strong as ever.

Asked about the possible alliance against the BJP, he said, "There might be mahagathbandhan (large alliance), but the NDA will come in power. At best, there may be loss of 30 to 40 seats but not more than that."

"(Congress President) Rahul Gandhi is no competition for Narendra Modi. We will form the next government under his leadership," Athawale added.

In reply to questions on the Ayodhya Ram janmabhoomi issue, he denied that any law for construction of a temple at the disputed site was in the offing. "If a law is made on temple construction, there may be a demand for building of a masjid. There is no need for such laws."

"The 65-acre disputed land should be divided into 40-45 acres for the temple complex, rest 20 acres may be given to the Muslims, for any education or health institute or whatever they feel like."