The party’s reaction came against the backdrop of two of its leaders — Manish Tewari and Jitin Prasada — criticising the existing quota policy.
Speaking to reporters, Congress communication department chief Randeep Surjewala said, "RSS-BJP combine continues to spread polarising divisive agenda to undermine the rights of deprived and the underprivileged, particularly the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes.
"The latest interview of RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in RSS mouthpiece Organiser calling the reservation principles enshrined in the Constitution as ‘politicisation’ as also for a review of reservation for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward classes is a manifestation of anti-poor mind set espoused by RSS and now by BJP since pre-Independence days," he said.
In an interview to RSS mouthpiece Organiser, Bhagwat had pitched for a review of the reservation policy, contending it has been used for political ends and suggesting setting up of an apolitical committee to examine who needs the facility and for how long.
Congress is contesting the Assembly elections in Bihar in alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD-U, which owe their origin to Mandal politics. Both the parties have taken serious umbrage to Bhagwat’s remarks.
Surjewal’s late night statement that the party was committed to the issue of reservation came even as senior party leaders Tewari and Prasada voiced their opposition to the current caste-based quota.
"Congress introduced the system of reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes in government employment, educational institutions as well as elected bodies as part of affirmative action enshrined in India’s Constitution.
"It is also Congress that introduced reservation for OBCs in government employment and educational institutions in the mid-1990s and later. The party is of the firm opinion that affirmative action in favour of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs must continue in order to deal with the discrimination imposed by centuries of subjugation and oppression," Surjewala said.
Accusing Modi of pursuing "anti-dalit, anti-ST ideology, policies and decisions" since the time he was Gujarat Chief Minister, Surjewala cited purported references from his books as well as decisions made by him.
"In November, 2007, Modi authored a book Karmyog in which he stated that he does not believe that they (Valmikis) were doing this job to sustain their livelihood. He argued that had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of work generation after generation. He said and that at some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmiki’s) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the gods," Surjewala said.
The Congress spokesperson further alleged that on April 30, 2010 during a release of his book titled ‘Samajik Samrashta’, Modi drew parallels between "mentally-retarded children and dalits".
"He (Modi) stated that just as people give special treatment to mentally-retarded children when they visit their houses, the dalits, too, ought to be treated the same way," Surjewala alleged.
Noting that as per the orders of Planning Commission each state is required to have a Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) as also Scheduled Tribe Sub Plan (STSP), he said Modi as Gujarat CM did not hold a meeting of SCST or STSP for 10 years since 2004 up to the date of demitting office.
Surjewala also alleged that inter-district filling of vacancies under reserved categories was not allowed in Gujarat during Modi’s tenure, "denying lakhs of job opportunities to dalits and backward classes which went unfilled".
Claiming that Congress believes in true equality of opportunity, Surjewala recalled that in its 2009 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto, the party had pledged to explore carving out reservation for ‘economically weaker sections of all communities’ without prejudice to existing reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs.
"In the 2014 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto, the party pledge said that the Congress was committed to finding a way forward for introducing reservation in education and employment for economically weaker sections without in any way affecting existing reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes," he said.
Surjewals also cited a statement by Congress President Sonia Gandhi in January, 2014 in which she had said that the empowerment of the SC/ST and OBCs has been an "article of faith" with the Congress.