By Qazi Mudasir,MM,
Hamid Ansari’s assertive words on the Muslim reservation at the golden jubilee celebration of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat in New Delhi again brought the issue of Muslims reservation on the centre stage of public discourse. He said that, “there is one prerequisite for Sabka vikas Sabke Sath and that is affirmative action to ensure a common starting point.” The reaction to this statement was obvious from the Sangh Parivar which called it political and communal. However, it again flips the public debate on the feasibility of reservation for the Muslim community which since independence is suffering largely due to structural and institutional disadvantages. In India deprivation and injustice is a common uttered word and have been limited to caste only ignoring the economic indicators.
India is a multi-diverse country and it is not only vertically but horizontally divided too. This large diversity was accompanied by large scale caste and class discrimination. Caste discrimination has its roots in the Manusmrti and Vedas and was perpetuated centuries together by the upper castes Hindus. However, with the dawn of rationality and scientific temperament a fundamental change occurred in the thinking of the people but the caste system remained intact largely due to the upper hand of Brahmans in the government structures that largely halted the progress of an egalitarian society.
India’s independence in 1947 and the subsequent framing of the constitution were mainly drove by the idea of an egalitarian society, in which the people of the country could lead a dignified life by ensuring protection to their basic liberties. However, after the independence main stream discourse in India related to affirmatives action remained limited to caste and ignored the other groups,’ minorities in general and Muslims in particular. This was justified on the ground that lower caste group have suffered perpetual injustice from the historical times in Indian society and affirmative action targeted towards the lower caste group was instrument to compensate the past injustices. Thus, the word social justice became synonymy to caste and the other religious groups were excluded from this discourse, as no caste system was prevalent in religions like Islam and Christianity which are egalitarian in nature. Hence in the constituent assembly consensus on reservation and other preferential treatments meant for the lower castes was evolved which kept the scope for affirmatives action open for the lower caste groups in Indian constitution.
Before the partition the Constitution makers considered and debated on two set of minority rights, one related to political and economic rights, and the other to religious, educational and cultural rights so that to took Muslim League on board. But the Muslim League did not agree with this Congress scheme and partition took place. The departure of Muslim League and the formation of Pakistan resulted in a drastic change in the mainstream discourse on minority rights particularly that of Muslims in India which still can be sensed. The political safeguards for the minorities’ were thrown out of the Constitution debate on the pretext that it will endanger the secular fabric of the new born nation. The reservation for the minorities in the jobs and services also had to face the scathing criticism from the majority of members in the constituent assembly. Therefore, the discourse on minority rights was limited to, Fundamental Right to freedom of religion, special provision related to the protection of scripts and culture, and right of minorities to maintain their educational institutions, thereby devoid of any special and preferential treatment.
Due to the reservation policy and other affirmative actions a significant improvement took place in the social-economic status of SCs, STs, and OBCs on the contrary the position of religious minorities in general and Muslims’ in particularly showed negative trend. A large section of Indian population that is Muslims are living in pathetic conditions, just because there were no measures to promote their socio- economic development. No doubt the issue of Muslim welfare got figured on several instances from time to time but that was left unaddressed. A significant was step was taken by Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1980 by setting a High Power Panel on Minorities under the Chairmanship of Dr. Gopal Singh, to study the conditions of the Muslims. In this context Indira Gandhi introduced the Prime Minister’s 15 Point Programme in 1983 with an objective to provide a sense of security to minority communities and ensure their rapid socio-economic development. However, the announced policies couldn’t achieve anything substantial. The Congress’s pseudo secular approach largely alienated the Muslim social constituency which resulted in Congress’s debacle in the Lok Sabha and State legislative elections till 2004. However, this alienation was largely arrested by the Congress party after 2002, due to BJP anti-Muslim policy and particularly the incident of Gujarat riots. This largely helped the Congress to reach out to the Muslims and which whole hearted accepted the Congress again in 2004 elections.
The minority support to the Congress and its allies proved vital for the formation of UPA-I government and thus pushed the new government to relook the minority concerns. The Congress in its elections campaign largely stressed that it will go beyond identity politics and will strive for the Muslims socio- economic development through reservation. After the UPA assumed power at the centre it formulated a Common Minimum Programme in which it pledged to set up a commission which will examine the possible criteria for reservation among religious and linguistic minorities. The UPA government did the same, a National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities under the Chairmanship of Justice Ranganath Mishra was constituted. Besides this a High Level Committee under the Chairmanship of Justice Rajinder Sachar to provide a comprehensive report on the socio-economic and education status of Muslims was constituted. Both commissions submitted their reports which assume historical importance as far as the Muslim upliftment in India is concerned. The Sachar Committee in its report highlighted the plight of the Muslims by finding out that, “Muslim community by and large are lagging behind to other communities in terms of their access to public and private sector jobs, education, infrastructure, and credit and, more importantly, the gap between the Muslims and other communities have not filled over the years rather had it increased in some dimensions”. The committee however, didn’t recommend any reservations for the Muslims but concluded that there is need to maintain the diversity in the public and private institutions of the country and for that it recommended the establishment of the diversity index.
The findings of National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities under the Chairmanship of Ranganath Mishra, assumes importance as far as the reservation for the Muslims is concern. The Commission recommended reserving 15 percent in the Central and state government services for linguistic and religious minorities out of which 10 percent was recommended to be reserved for the Muslims and 5 percent for other minorities. Besides this the Commission recommended that the Presidential order of 1950 should be amended so that SC status should be given to Dalit’s in all religions. The government couldn’t decide on the issue mainly because of practical and electoral constraints. Firstly, the Supreme Court had approved ceiling that quota cannot go beyond 50 percent. If government wants to go beyond this it had to amend the Constitution which was going to be difficult for the government. Secondly, the government had the alternative which was also recommended by the Ranganath Mishra to bring socially and educationally backward Minorities’ within the OBC category with a sub quota, but it cannot evolve consensus on this issue because the UPA-II government constituents had substantial support of the Hindu OBCs. However, the UPA-II couldn’t proceed further on the issue due to the coalition constraints and its decision on minority reservation just remains rhetoric. The government also could not move forward on the recommendation of the Ranganath Commission to give the SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by amending the Presidential order of 1950.
The author is pursuing Ph.D. in Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, and Uttar Pradesh and can be
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