PM Modi’s divisive speeches on reservation prompt BJP-ruled states to announce a review of OBC quota benefits for Muslims

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Photo credit: The Indian Express.

By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly divisive speeches during the Lok Sabha election campaign claiming that reservation in jobs and education has been given in several states to Muslims on religious ground has prompted the BJP-ruled states to lay the groundwork for withdrawal of quota benefits to the Muslim community under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. If implemented, this move will result in denial of opportunities to Muslims, who are already reeling under poverty, deprivation and backwardness.

The BJP governments in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have announced that they will review Muslim reservation after the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha election comes to an end with the declaration of results on June 4. A high-power committee is likely to be appointed soon in Rajasthan for examining the classification of certain Muslim groups as OBCs and making its recommendation to the State Government.

Rajasthan Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Avinash Gehlot said in Jaipur recently that the Congress had given reservation to 14 Muslim castes under the OBC category as part of its “appeasement politics” between 1997 and 2013 despite the Constitution disallowing the quota facility on the basis of religion. “We have all those circulars, and the department and the government are going to review it,” the Minister said.

The ruling BJP has given hints about withdrawal of reservation to Muslims in any form amid the issue being debated during the ongoing elections. In a series of speeches delivered at the election rallies at different places across the country, Modi has accused the Congress of hatching a conspiracy to reduce the quota for Dalits, tribals and backwards and give it to Muslims in defiance of the Constitution. The BJP has alleged that the Congress intends to extend reservation to Muslims all over the country.

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, Modi said the Congress wanted to give reservation 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.

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 BJP 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.”

Rajasthan Minister Avinash Gehlot said his department had received lots of complaints about reservation extended to “undeserving Muslims”, which were being verified. In the overall 64% reservation in Rajasthan, the quota for the OBCs at present is 21%. There are as many as 82 castes and groups classified as OBCs, among whom the Muslim castes getting the reservation benefits include Meo, Kayamkhani, Bhishti, Manganiyar, Lakhera, Mirasi, Kathat, Bisayati, Sindhi, Gaddi, Julaha and Qasai.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma also made remarks about reservation during his election campaign tour to Lucknow recently. Sharma said the Constitution does not accept any reservation on the basis of religion. “No one is going to get the quota based on religion in Rajasthan,” he said.

In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced a comprehensive review of OBC reservations granted to Muslims by previous administrations. Adityanath emphasised at an election rally that the quota in employment and education intended for Hindus should not be extended to Muslims. He criticised the Congress for allocating the OBC reservation to Muslims and said this strategy formed part of a broader agenda to push India towards “Islamisation and division”.

Adityanath alleged that the Congress’s actions during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, including the recommendations of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, aimed at allocating a portion of the OBC reservations to Muslims and incorporating converted Muslims in the Dalit category.

Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has also confirmed that the State Government will scrutinise the OBC reservations provided to Muslims, while alleging that the previous governments had used the quota benefits to secure votes, which was an unconstitutional move. Maurya affirmed that reservation should not be given on the basis of religion.

However, the Opposition Congress has taken exception to the BJP’s intentions, while pointing out that the Muslim groups were classified as OBCs at different points of time with a due process on the basis of recommendations made by the State OBC Commission after their socio-economic surveys.

Rajasthan State Minorities Commission chairperson and Congress MLA Rafiq Khan said the reservation could only be termed as based on religion if the entire Muslim community was given the quota benefit. “This is not the case. The Muslim castes have got reservation on the ground of their backwardness. They need it for coming to the mainstream,” Khan said.

Veteran Congress leader and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said while reacting to the proposed move of the BJP governments in the two states that only those Muslims, who were backward, were availing of the reservation facility. “No matter what the government says, nothing will happen. We gave reservation on the recommendations of the OBC Commission [during the Congress rule]. Not all Muslims but only those who are backward have got the quota benefits. Only those categorised as OBCs have been granted the reservation,” Gehlot said at a press conference in Jaipur.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Rajasthan state general secretary Kashif Zuberi said his party would protest against the proposed review, as the BJP wanted to target Muslims on the pretext of ensuring social justice for the majority community. “The BJP should review its Assembly election manifesto instead of taking decisions to target the Muslim community without any provocation,” Zuberi said.

The BJP seems to have got emboldened on the issue after a recent judgment of the Calcutta High Court setting aside OBC classification of 37 communities under the West Bengal Backward Classes (Other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts) Act, 2012, and cancelling all OBC certificates issued in the state since 2010. Rajasthan CM Sharma welcomed the High Court’s verdict and said it had put a lock on West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s “politics of appeasement”.

The court struck down several portions of the 2012 Act in its judgment delivered on May 22. Among the Sections nullified were Section 16, the second part of Section 2(h), and Section 5(a) of the Act, which distributed reservation percentages of 10% and 7% to the sub-classified categories. Consequently, the sub-classified categories OBC-A and OBC-B were removed from Schedule I of the Act.

“The selection of 77 classes of Muslims as backward is an affront to the Muslim community as a whole. This court’s mind is not free from doubt that the said community has been treated as a commodity for political ends. This is clear from the chain of events that led to the classification of the 77 classes as OBCs and their inclusion to be treated as a vote bank,” the judgment said.

The court further observed: “Citizens from the 77 classes and 37 classes (added in the exercise of Section 16) struck down above, who are already in the service of the State, or have already availed the benefit of reservation or have succeeded in any selection process in the State, shall not be affected by the reason of this judgment.”

The court instructed the West Bengal Backward Class Welfare Department, in consultation with the State Backward Class Commission, to prepare a report for the State Legislature. This report, the court directed, should include recommendations for the inclusion of new classes or the exclusion of remaining classes from the State’s list of OBCs.

However, Mamata Banerjee has asserted that she will not accept the High Court’s judgment and said the West Bengal government would challenge the order in the Supreme Court. Addressing an election rally at Khardah under the Dumdum Lok Sabha constituency, Banerjee said the OBC reservation would continue in the state, as the Bill concerned was passed within the framework of the Constitution.

“The OBC reservation quota introduced by the West Bengal government will continue. We had drafted the Bill after conducting a house-to-house survey, and it was passed by the Cabinet and the Assembly,” Banerjee said, adding that, if necessary, the state government will move a higher court. She accused the BJP of conspiring to stall the OBC quota by using Central agencies. “Some people have gone to the court, moved a petition to sabotage the interest of OBCs and then this development takes place. How can the saffron party show such audacity?” she said.

TMC leader Saket Gokhale said a “very interesting fact” about the OBC certificate cancellation judgment handed down by the High Court was that the judge who gave the verdict was the same judge who gave blanket immunity in criminal cases to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, who is the current Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly, in the context of the controversial Sandeshkhali episode.

Amid the entire debate on the OBC reservation and the BJP’s brazen declarations that it will deprive Muslims of all kinds of quota benefits, linking it with the religion as a ground, the small window of hope in education and jobs is likely to be shut on the faces of the Muslim youth. Those opposing reservation for Muslims are not willing to accept that it is not based on religion, but is one of the measures to rectify the denial of opportunities. Any withdrawal of the quota system will send lakhs of young Muslims back to the cycle of poverty and deprivation.

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