Facts refute PM Modi’s claim: No quota given to Muslims on religious grounds

0
21

By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been claiming in his speeches during the ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign that the Opposition INDIA bloc and the Congress have hatched a conspiracy to reduce reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and give it to Muslims after dividing it. Modi has affirmed multiple times that the quota benefit has been given to Muslims in several states on the religious ground.

Addressing an election rally in Zaheerabad Lok Sabha constituency in Telangana, Modi said: “As long as Modi is alive, I will not let reservations of Dalits, Adivasis and OBC to be given to Muslims on the basis of religion.” He claimed that when Congress won a record number of MPs and MLAs in undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2004 and 2009, it gave the reservation of backward classes to Muslims.

At another election rally in Rajasthan’s Tonk district earlier, Modi said the Congress wanted to give reservation in jobs and education to Muslims in defiance of the Constitution, which does not allow the grant of quota on the ground of religion. He accused the Congress of launching a “pilot project of reservation” in Andhra Pradesh by providing a quota of 5% to Muslims with an intention to extend it to all over the country.

“As soon as the Congress formed the government at the Centre in 2004, one of its first tasks was to reduce the SC/ST reservation in Andhra Pradesh and give the quota to Muslims. Between 2004 and 2010, the Congress made four attempts to introduce Muslim reservation in that state, but it could not succeed because of legal impediments and the Supreme Court’s alertness,” Modi said.

Modi further pointed out that the BJP government, when elected in Karnataka, abolished the Muslim reservation in March last year, a reservation which he alleged was created by snatching it from STs/SCs. This is not the first time that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre has articulated its stance on the Muslim quota. Last year in June, while addressing a rally in Maharashtra, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had unabashedly declared that “reservation for the Muslim community is against the Constitution.”

Contrary to Modi’s brazen claims that the quota is being provided to Muslims through the back door on the basis of religion by cutting into the reservation for the deserving people to strengthen the Muslim vote bank of Congress, the facts prove that the provisions for reservation in the southern states have been made for Muslims after categorising them as a backward class and not on the basis of their religion. The facts refute Modi’s false claims, which are meant to mislead the people and create a frenzy among voters, besides creating an anti-Muslim atmosphere in the country.

Quota for Muslims at the central and state levels stems from Article 16(4) of the Constitution, which guarantees reservations for a backward class of citizens, which in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State. The third Backward Class Commission headed by Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy had categorised Muslims as “educationally and socially backward” and

concluded that the economic plight of Muslims is close to that of the SCs in many educational parameters. In 2006, the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee’s report arrived at similar conclusions.

Significantly, the OBC reservations exclude the creamy layer comprising the individuals with an income of Rs. 8 lakh or more per year, as these are members of backward classes who are better off socially, educationally or economically. This means socially progressive and affluent Muslims are not entitled to this benefit. The quota also differs from state to state.

In Kerala, out of the 30% OBC quota, Muslims are entitled to 8% in educational institutions and 10% in government jobs. Tamil Nadu provides reservations to close to 95% of its Muslim communities. In Bihar, where OBCs have been divided into backward and most backward classes, Muslims fall into the latter category.

In Karnataka, out of the 32% reservation for OBCs, a sub-category comprising 4% was reserved for Muslims. However, the BJP-led Basavaraj Bommai government quashed the quota last year and redistributed it among dominant Hindu castes such as the Vokkaligas and Lingayats before the Assembly elections in May. It defended its move, saying that the grant of reservation to an entire community based on religion is constitutionally impermissible and that Muslims would continue to benefit from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota.

However, experts flagged the revocation as legally untenable. Political scientist Muzaffar Assadi of the University of Mysore pointed out that Muslims were categorised as a backward class and not given reservations based on religion. “Muslims were included in the OBC list based on a study of their socio-economic conditions and recommendations by the L.G. Havanur and Chinnappa Reddy Commissions.

“On what basis did the state government decide that Muslims were no longer backward and they were to be considered a forward community?” Assadi asked. In April 2023, the Supreme Court while hearing petitions challenging the move said the government’s decision was prima facie shaky and flawed. The Bommai government assured the court that no fresh appointments or admissions would be made in terms of the contentious government order while the case was underway.

Consequently, a promise to restore the 4% quota for the Muslim community was made by the Congress in its manifesto ahead of the Assembly elections, where the party enjoyed a landslide victory. On April 24, 2024, days before the first round of polling in Karnataka for the Lok Sabha, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) Chairperson Hansraj Gangaram Ahir said that he would summon the Chief Secretary over the state’s categorisation of the OBC quota, which provides for “blanket reservation” to Muslims under Category II-B.

In response to the charge, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah clarified that the government has not brought any new changes to the OBC reservation matrix. Alleging that the NCBC is politically motivated, he said: “It gives the impression that the Congress government of Karnataka has given a new reservation to Muslims. This is a blatant lie. The fact remains that the backward class reservation of Muslims has been in existence since March 3, 1977, and it has withstood legal scrutiny.”

The quota for Muslims in government jobs and education is historically perceived to have been introduced by H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal in 1995 when he was the Chief Minister. A distinct classification, known as 2B, was made within the OBC quota for Muslims. Deve Gowda’s JD(S) is now an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Karnataka.

Interestingly, reservation for Muslims in Karnataka dates back to 1874. The princely state of Mysore has been a pioneer in introducing reservation to achieve fair representation and social justice. The first ever order for affirmative action was issued in 1874 and it included Muslims. The first ever census conducted in India in 1872 revealed a preponderance of Brahmins in public services, to correct which the first order introducing reservation was passed in 1874 in Mysore state, restricting it to only the Police Department.

A roster of posts was created and of every 10 posts, the first two were reserved for Brahmins, while the remaining eight were reserved for “Muhammadens and other Hindus”. This is considered to be the first ever order of reservation in India and it included Muslims, as a community that needed representation. 

When this measure was deemed insufficient and demands rose for better representation, the king of Mysore formed the Miller’s Commission in 1918, which gave its report in 1921. Miller’s Commission also classified “Muhammadens” as a backward class and the community was given reservation.

In Andhra Pradesh, where Muslims constitute 9.5% of the population, certain sects such as the Dudekula, Laddaf, Noorbash, and Mehtar have OBC quotas ranging from 7% to 10%. This reservation is being implemented under a separate category of OBCs known as BC-E, without cutting into the existing OBC quota. However, there has been a push to include all Muslims in the OBC category following the precedents in Karnataka and Kerala.

In June 2004, the Congress government asked the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare to look into the socio-economic and educational conditions of the Muslim community in the state to include them as OBCs. Accordingly, a 5% reservation to “Muslim minorities in employment, educational and other fields on par with the Backward Classes in the State” was recommended by the Commissionerate which was implemented in July 2004.

On September 21, 2004, a five-judge Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the quota as unconstitutional by underscoring that the reservation was implemented without consulting the state’s Backward Classes Commission as statutorily mandated. It also pointed out that the quota did not exclude the creamy layer, and permitted reservations to Muslims as a whole contrary to the Supreme Court’s directive.

Accordingly, the court directed the state government to reconstitute the Commission for Backward Classes, and “on such reconstitution of the Commission for Backward Classes, the Government shall initiate the process of consultation and forward the necessary material, including the G.O. Ms. No.33, to the Commission for Backward Classes.” However, the Court acknowledged that Muslims are entitled to affirmative action and that reservations do not offend the principle of secularism.

On June 20, 2005, the state government implemented the Andhra Pradesh Reservation of Seats in the Educational Institutions and of Appointments or Posts in the Public Services under the State to Muslim Community Ordinance, 2005, which was later replaced by a law providing for 5% quota for Muslims in education and employment. This was based on the Backward Classes Commission’s observation that the Muslim community was socially, educationally and economically backward and was therefore entitled to affirmative action.

However, the law breached the 50% ceiling on reservations as propounded by the Supreme Court’s Indra Sawhney judgment of 1992. Accordingly, a five-judge Bench of the High Court once again struck down the quota for being based on unscientific and defective criteria. The ruling was subsequently challenged before the Supreme Court. On January 4, 2006, an interim stay on the High Court’s verdict was granted after which it was referred to a Constitution Bench.

As a result, college enrolments made on the basis of the reservation law remained unaffected. In 2022, the then Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit said that he would list the appeal for hearing after the court concludes hearing the EWS quota case. However, no hearing has taken place as yet.

Former Andhra Pradesh Minister and ex-Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council, Mohammed Ali Shabbir, has said that nearly 25 lakh poor Muslims have benefited from the 4% reservation. He said the prevailing 4% quota for Muslims in jobs and education in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh was the result of a long and hard struggle. Muslim leaders have vowed to do what all it takes to protect the quota and thanked every individual and organisation which played a role in getting it.

A claim for inclusion under the SC quota has also been made by Dalit Muslims. However, the Centre has opposed such a plea before the Supreme Court by alluding to the seeming “foreign origins” of Islam and Christianity compared to Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. “It is submitted that the present is a case of classification between Indian citizens and foreigners which cannot be doubted on any count. It is well established that Article 14 forbids class legislation but does not forbid classification, though the present case does not involve any foreign citizens as parties,” the Centre’s affidavit stated.

In April last year, the government requested the apex court to wait for the report of the three-member Commission of Inquiry headed by former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan before considering petitions seeking the grant of SC status for Dalit Muslims and Christians. The Commission is considering whether the SC status can be granted to Dalits who have converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here