A political trap

State legislature's decision, instead of serving the cause of Muslims, will prove disadvantageous because of its flawed propositions.

In a policy response to the Muslim’s interest groups’ campaign for 12% reservation for Muslims in public employment and education, the Telangana Legislature has passed a bill to increase the OBC-E quota, which includes 14 Muslim backward castes, from 4% to 12% and the ST quota from 6% to 10% taking the quantum of reservation in the state to 62%.

Prudently, the political parties of all orientations minus the BJP supported the decision in chorus to avoid the anger of Muslims. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao emerged a hero in the eyes of the Muslims as he fulfilled the promise.

Be that as it may, this decision of the state legislature, instead of serving the cause of Muslims, will prove disadvantageous to them due to its flawed propositions. The Bill has the potential to not only giving breathing space to right wing politics in Telangana but also to nullify the 4% reservation already given to backward class Muslims in the state.

Classically, the Muslim’s demands were mainly confined to physical security. Moreover, due to the poor literacy rate and economic backwardness of the community, other more vital issues such as economic security and share in the jobs are relegated to secondary importance. But the situation has changed in the last more than six and half decades.

The community’s growing sense of belonging with the country forced them to demand a share in the overall national resources as equal partner.  They have understood the design of lip service of the politicians. The whole campaign for Muslim reservation in Telangana is the outcome of this realisation.

Historically, a committee appointed by the princely state of Mysore in 1918 termed Muslims as backward class due to their inadequate representation in public service. But reservation for them in government employment was only recognised by the colonial state in 1925. Despite the ‘separate electorate’ principles for Muslims, the benefit of reservation in government employment was extended to them along with Hindu Dalits by the Government of India Act, 1935.

However, the ‘class’ argument for Muslim reservation was not entertained in the Constitution despite its reference in the Constituent Assembly debates and in the report of its sub-committee on the minorities dated August 8, 1947, presented by Vallabhbhai Patel. The argument for reservation for non-privileged caste Muslims under SC category was also denied on the poor logic that Islam does not recognise caste system. It was amply clear from the census reports published from 1901 to 1931 that Muslim society is equally hierarchiised along caste lines.

Muslims have never been a monolith community. They were/are divided along Ashraf (high castes), Ajlaf (backward castes) and Arzal (akin to dalits among Muslims) lines. It is exemplified by the enumeration of several low castes among Muslims in the census reports published from 1901 to 1931. It is also demonstrated by the Central and State Backward Class Commission’s reports and the finding of several central and state committees like the Gopal Singh Committee, Ranganath Mishra Committee, Sachar Committee, Kundu Committee and so on.

Campaigning for reservation for the entire Muslim community is a wrong proposition. Instead, the arguments shall be made for inclusion of more similarly placed Muslim castes in the OBC lists. The community should also be mobilised for the amendments in the Presidential Order of 1950 issued under Article 341 of the Constitution to identify the existence of Dalit Muslims which, nonetheless, qualifies that “no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste”. The benefit of SC and ST reservation should be extended to Arzal Muslims the way it was extended to Sikhs and Buddhists’ non-privileged caste converts through subsequent amendments to the 1950 Presidential Order in 1956 and 1990.

Constitutional crisis

Muslims as a backward class reservation is also problematic because it may lead to a constitutional crisis as it requires amendments to the constitution for which a majority is needed in Parliament and conviction of the ruling party. It will also reopen the floodgate of reservation demand for other religious communities on the ground of poor economic condition for which the present Indian economy is not ready.

The demand for caste-based reservation for Muslims will demolish the myth of not only Muslim monolith but also the overall agenda of Hindu right wing to polarise Hindus against Muslims. The identity of Muslims as monolith suits the overall framework of Hindu right-wing as it helps them consolidate Hindus against Muslims. Once the idea of Dalit Muslims gains ground and the Muslim monolith image gets demolished, it will give little space for the parties to polarise the Indian consciousness in terms of Hindus vs non-Hindus.

The Dalit Muslims are the subject of double discrimination: being Muslim and not being privileged castes. The demand for inclusion of Arzal in SC category and Ajlaf in OBC category will not only help these communities but also the overall Muslims as it will improve their socio-economic and educational index. 

Without putting much stress on reservation for the entire Muslims, the focus should be demanding favourable schemes, policies and programmes so as to improve the livelihood of Muslims. It may include the creation of better health facilities, educational institutions, large and small scale industries, vocational training centres, road and transport facilities and so on in the Muslim concentrated districts.

Let the Muslim community work more in monitoring and highlighting the so called flagship programmes for its development and demanding more resour­ces for its effective implementation. The community should focus on creating a civil society and critical intellectual mass to work for itself. It will help it in more substantial terms. In a nutshell, Muslims of India, and Telangana, should not fall to the deceptive trap of reservation based on religion. It is merely an electoral gimmick of the political parties to mobilise their votes without actual delivery.

(The writer is Associate Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad)

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