EWS quota, freebies case and CAA: How the DMK is taking on BJP-led Union government in courts

DMK is among the few Opposition political parties legally challenging problematic policy decisions of the BJP-led Centre.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Dec 06, 2022 | 2:00 PM Updated Dec 06, 2022 | 2:00 PM

MK Stalin

The ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu is among the very few political parties from the Opposition ranks that has been strongly and systematically opposing key policy decisions of the BJP-led Centre. And the challenge is often mounted both on the political and legal fronts.

In the latest instance, the DMK filed a review petition on 5 December, Monday, in the Supreme Court challenging the verdict upholding the 103rd Amendment brought in by the BJP-led Union Government to provide 10 percent reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among the upper castes in jobs and education.

When the five-judge bench of the apex court delivered its 3:2 split judgement in the EWS case on 7 November, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK chief MK Stalin opined that the order was a setback for the “century-long crusade for social justice”.

After convening a meeting of all legislative party leaders last month — from which both the AIADMK and BJP stayed away — it was decided the DMK would appeal against the verdict.

In the review petition, the Dravidian party challenged the EWS judgement on five broad grounds:

  • Reservation can never be on the basis of economic criteria alone;
  • It can never be granted to forward castes, who are not socially backward;
  • That the classification of EWS is not a reasonable or valid classification;
  • That the impugned amendments are discriminatory in as much as it excludes the EWS among SC, ST and OBCs, and it violates the equality code which is a basic feature of the Constitution;
  • And it violates the basic feature of Constitution and fails the width of power, identity and guided power tests.

Related: ‘EWS quota is cancer in Constitution that needs to be cut out’

Details of review petition

While pointing out that the amendment does not define the term “economically weaker sections”, the DMK argued that the legislation has made a large section of advanced classes, especially the upper castes of population, eligible for “easy exclusive luxurious reservations”.

“The Constitution has given them a mask to hide behind the misleading term ‘economically weaker sections’. It’s a fact that they have not suffered social stigma nor discriminated from the society or kept away from jobs or from the mainstream,” the petition read.

It also stated that the judgement laid down a precedent or law that Parliament can bring any type of reservations through a constitutional amendment for any category even to the extent of completely ignoring open competition and that there shall be no bar in the Constitution for that.

The ruling party in Tamil Nadu further pointed out to the court that it has not considered the historical and social advantage existing in favour of the forward castes while upholding the EWS quota, and that reservations as a concept have to be construed as sacrosanct and a step to be taken in extreme caution to offset centuries of oppression faced by SC/ST/OBC communities, etc.

Other legal fights

In addition to the EWS case, just few days back, RS Bharathi, the DMK’s organising secretary, filed an additional affidavit in the Supreme Court challenging the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), predominantly on the grounds that it is “arbitrary” and discriminated against the “Tamil race” as it does not take into consideration the plight of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

Calling for the law to be declared unconstitutional, null and void, and ultra vires of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution, the DMK also pointed out that CAA went against the fabric of the nation’s secular principles as it kept Muslims out of its purview.

Earlier, the DMK was one of the first parties to implead itself in the case heard by the apex court against the distribution of “freebies” by political parties at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders where accusing Opposition parties of promoting a “revdi culture” in the country. The Dravidian party argued that there was no straightjacket formula to decide what scheme could be classified as a “freebie”.

It stated that in “no imaginable reality” could a welfare scheme providing a free service, and introduced with an “intent to secure social order and economic justice under Article 38– to minimize the inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities”– be construed as a “freebie”.

Related: Kerala to bring poor from all communities under EWS quota

Why is DMK mounting legal challenges?

Asked about why the party was mounting legal challenges against key policy decisions of the BJP-led Union government, P Wilson, DMK Rajya Sabha MP and senior lawyer, told South First that it was a conscious decision by the party.

“We are not fighting these cases for publicity. Whenever there is a violation of rights, be it the fundamental rights of the citizens or the state rights, we will intervene and we will fight it tooth and nail as per the instructions from our leader MK Stalin,” he said.

“We see these cases as fight against policies which are against the interests of the people and against the values of our country,” added Wilson, who was recently appointed the DMK’s chief legal consultant.

Mentioning the various legal battles won by the DMK, for example, the SC order upholding the validity of 27 percent reservation for OBCs in admissions to medical colleges, he also highlighted the transformation undergone by the DMK legal wing over the years.

“When the legal wing was started, the idea was to take care of the legal cases filed against party leaders and members. But over the years, because of the guidance of Kalaignar Karunanidhi and Thalaivar MK Stalin, the legal wing is now undertaking cases to safeguard the rights of the people and the state,” Wilson said.

Echoing similar views, DMK spokesperson and lawyer A Saravanan claimed that the legal work done by his party was “unparalleled” when compared to others.

“I don’t know why many other political parties are not going to court over these matters. But for the DMK, we do not just preach and walk out. We try to find solutions instead of just offering lip service. We cannot expect the BJP to roll back its problematic policies. The only other way is to approach the court,” he said.

According to Ramu Manivannan, a professor of politics and public administration, another reason why the DMK is knocking the doors of the court over matters like the EWS case or CAA is because of its ideological orientation.

“It is the ideological orientation of the DMK that is leading to these cases. The party has to rally with its ideological position of social justice, secularism, etc. As a political party, you must also be able to recognise unrest within the civil society over objectionable policies like EWS or CAA,” he said.

‘DMK using judiciary for its politics’

According to the BJP, however, the DMK is using the judiciary for its political gains and not for the good of the public.

Speaking to South First, Narayanan Tirupathy, Tamil Nadu BJP vice-president, said: “When the DMK wins a case in court, they take the credit for it. But if they lose the case, then they malign the judiciary by saying that the Supreme Court belongs to Brahmins. DMK is waging an unnecessary battle with the Union government and the courts.”

“CAA, EWS are laws passed by Parliament. So is the DMK challenging the Parliament and democracy?” he asked.