NDA allies at odds over Muslim reservations: TDP, NCP push for quotas despite BJP opposition


By Anwarulhaq Baig

NEW DELHI—While the Narendra Modi-led NDA government allocated portfolios to 71 ministers, its key coalition partner, the TDP, has caused a potential headache by vowing to fulfill its promise of 4% reservations for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh, and another ally, the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, is demanding similar reservations in Maharashtra, despite Modi and other senior BJP leaders reiterating their ardent opposition to Muslim quotas during recent election campaigns. The contentious issue of reservation has exposed an ideological fissure between the ruling BJP and some of its key allies.

In a remarkable political comeback, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) secured 16 Lok Sabha seats, emerging as the second largest party in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly, the TDP clinched a landslide victory, winning 135 out of 175 seats. Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu has become the Chief Minister again.

Following the election results, TDP leaders, including Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh, reiterated their commitment to maintaining the existing reservation policy for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. In a recent interview with a national television channel, Lokesh emphasized that the party’s focus would be on job creation and uplifting marginalized communities, reaffirming their support for Muslim reservations.

“The reservation is not for appeasement but for social justice,” Lokesh stated. “Minorities in the state have the lowest per capita income. The reservation for Muslims has been in place for the last two decades, and we stand by it. Our goal is to alleviate poverty among these communities.”

Lokesh further highlighted that the TDP’s policies are driven by a responsibility to uplift those in need. “It’s a fact that minorities continue to suffer economically. As a government, it is our duty to bring them out of poverty. Our decisions are aimed at fostering inclusion and prosperity for all.”

Throughout the election campaign, Chandrababu Naidu consistently voiced his support for the 4% reservation for Muslims, despite strong opposition from key BJP leaders. “From the beginning, we have supported a four percent reservation for Muslims, and that will continue,” Naidu reiterated during a media interaction in Dharmavaram.

In a message on his social media platform, Naidu wrote, “Poverty remains high among Muslims today. It is our responsibility to assist them during these times. We will ensure the continuation of the 4% reservation for Muslims. #TDPWithMuslims.”

Addressing a gathering in Nellore, Naidu emphasized the TDP’s dedication to the cause. “We have hired the best advocates and fought for the four percent reservation for Muslims in the Supreme Court,” he affirmed.

Naidu also promised substantial support for the Muslim community. “Once the NDA comes to power in the state, every Muslim visiting Mecca for the Haj pilgrimage will receive financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh,” he declared during an interaction with the community.

The TDP’s election manifesto highlighted several ambitious proposals under the “super six” initiatives, including a monthly pension of Rs 1,500 for women aged 19 to 59, the creation of 20 lakh jobs for youth, or a monthly unemployment assistance of Rs 3,000, and free bus travel for women.

In a statement to a newspaper on Sunday, Lokesh Naidu assured that the TDP would ensure that decisions on contentious issues such as delimitation and the Uniform Civil Code are taken collectively, and that reservations for any community would not be revoked.

Rammohan Naidu, the youngest-ever Minister in the Modi Cabinet and son of senior TDP leader and former Union Minister Yerran Naidu, echoed this sentiment. He confirmed that the TDP has made no demands to its NDA ally BJP regarding Muslim reservations and is committed to preserving the quota in Andhra Pradesh.

Another vital component of the NDA, the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, has also sparked controversy by demanding the implementation of a 5% reservation for Muslims in education and government jobs in Maharashtra. Saleem Sarang, the NCP’s vice president, lamented the lack of Muslim representation at both the state and central levels, questioning if it was “a conspiracy to deliberately keep Muslims away from political leadership.”

The NCP leader remarked, “Muslims vote, but they don’t get the opportunity to be voted for! Is this a conspiracy to deliberately keep Muslims away from political leadership?”

BJP Leaders strongly rejected Muslim Reservation throughout their election campaigns

On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders, in their poll campaigns, fervently criticized the opposition for allegedly diverting quotas intended for backward classes towards Muslim beneficiaries. During a rally in Telangana last month, even Modi asserted that he would not allow reservations for Muslims as long as he is alive.

Specially citing examples from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where a 4% reservation for Muslims exists under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, BJP leaders lambasted state governments for providing what they term as “religion-based reservations.”

In a poll rally in Telangana’s Zaheerabad constituency, Modi reiterated his stance against Muslim reservations, accusing the Congress of turning undivided Andhra Pradesh into a “laboratory of appeasement” by reallocating backward class reservations to Muslims. “As long as I am alive, I will not allow reservations for Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs to be given to Muslims based on religion,” Modi declared.

Speaking at a rally in Rajasthan’s Tonk-Sawai Madhopur constituency, Modi pointed to the Congress’s effort to introduce a 5% Muslim quota in Andhra Pradesh as a “pilot project” intended for national implementation. Modi also noted that the BJP government in Karnataka abolished Muslim reservations last year.

Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah echoed Modi’s point of view

During an election rally in Telangana’s Bhongir, Amit Shah vowed to end Muslim reservations if the BJP wins. “We will increase the reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs and abolish Muslim reservations,” Shah asserted.

 Rajnath Singh in an interview during elections questioned, “The Constitution does not mention reservation based on religion. How can you promise this to Muslims and mislead them? It’s simply not possible.”

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had also thrown his weight behind the BJP’s stance during elections, stating that the party opposes any form of Muslim reservation to protect the quotas for SCs, STs, and OBCs.

Muslim Reservations: Status and Challenges

Muslims are included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation in 14 Indian states and Union Territories based on socio-economic indicators. Since 2007, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have provided 4% reservations for Muslims in education and government jobs under the OBC category.

Legal Framework: The OBC quota is defined by social and educational backwardness under Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution. States vary in their allocation: Karnataka had a 4% sub-quota for Muslims, which was cancelled and reallocated to Vokkaligas and Lingayats in 2023. Kerala grants an 8% quota for Muslims within its 30% OBC quota. Tamil Nadu and Bihar also include Muslim caste groups in their OBC categories.

Andhra Pradesh Efforts: In Andhra Pradesh, Muslims constitute about 9.5% of the population. Various Muslim communities are included in the state’s OBC lists, with quotas ranging from 7% to 10%. There have been efforts to include all Muslims in the OBC category.

2004 Reservation Attempt: In June 2004, Andhra Pradesh issued a Government Order to assess Muslims’ socio-economic conditions for OBC inclusion. By July, a 5% reservation for Muslims was recommended. However, in September, the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the quota for Muslims.

2005 Second Attempt: In June 2005, the state introduced another Ordinance for a 5% Muslim quota, later replaced by legislation. The Backward Classes Commission supported this, citing the community’s social, educational, and economic backwardness. Nonetheless, the High Court struck it down again, highlighting the lack of objective criteria. The Supreme Court, in 2010, ordered a status quo until further hearings.

Current Status: The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the case in 2022, but it remains pending, awaiting a decision following the clearance of the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota in November 2022, which allows quotas beyond the 50% limit. The Andhra Pradesh Muslim quota issue remains unresolved.

Timeline of Reservation for Muslims in AP and Other States

2004: First  Attempt in Andhra Pradesh

•             June 2004: The Andhra Pradesh government examines the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims to include them in the OBC list.

•             Result: A 5% reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) is introduced for Muslims.

•             Court Ruling: The Andhra Pradesh High Court strikes down the quota for not being referred to the Backward Classes Commission and for not excluding the creamy layer. The court also rules that Muslims cannot be considered a homogenous group but supports affirmative action within the constitutional framework.

2005: Re-introduction and Legal Challenges

•             2005: The Backward Classes Commission recommends reservations for the entire Muslim community, citing their social, educational, and economic backwardness.

•             Action: The state government introduces an Ordinance for a 5% Muslim quota, later replaced by legislation.

•             Court Ruling: The High Court again strikes down the quota, citing the lack of objective criteria to prove Muslims’ backwardness. The decision is challenged, leading the Supreme Court to maintain the status quo in 2010 until the issue is heard.

Similar Religion-Based Reservations in Other States

•             Kerala: Provides an 8% Muslim quota within its 30% OBC quota.

•             Tamil Nadu & Bihar: Include Muslim caste groups in their OBC quotas.

•             Karnataka: Previously had a 4% sub-quota for Muslims within the 32% OBC quota, which was redistributed among Vokkaligas and Lingayats in 2023 by the then BJP government .

Recent Developments in Karnataka

•             2023: The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) questions the Karnataka government’s categorization of Muslims in the OBC quota.

•             NCBC Concerns: The necessity and justification for a separate Muslim category and the over-representation in postgraduate medical admissions.

•             Karnataka’s Justification: Muslims are categorized as backward classes, not by caste or religion, based on various State Commission recommendations.

While TDP and NCP leaders promise a renewed focus on inclusive development and social justice for all communities in Andhra Pradesh, political analysts suggest that divergent views on Muslim reservations within the NDA could strain the coalition’s cohesion, particularly if regional parties with significant Muslim voter bases feel compelled to take a stance against the BJP’s position.


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