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Neither sneh nor samman for Pasmanda Muslims

Neither sneh nor samman for Pasmanda Muslims

The Prime Minister’s allegation targets not just the Congress, but also the Muslim community as being an undeserving beneficiary of reservations

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Last Updated : 02 May 2024, 05:21 IST
Last Updated : 02 May 2024, 05:21 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated allegation at election rallies that the Congress was bent upon ‘snatching’ reservations from those sections who’ve traditionally benefited from them and giving them to Muslims is not new. Modi had used this card earlier too — in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls, when he warned his audiences that his political rivals were out to take away the benefit of reservations from them and give it to ‘a particular community’. It didn’t work; those rivals: the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar-Rahul Gandhi Mahagatbandhan won, despite their alleged nefarious plans.

Will it work this time?

The Prime Minister’s allegation targets not just the Congress, but also the Muslim community as being an undeserving beneficiary of reservations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would end this ‘unconstitutional’ Muslim reservation, declared Home Minister Amit Shah.

These sweeping allegations made again and again by India’s two most powerful leaders, hide a reality: backward castes among Muslims, identified by occupation, known as Pasmandas, are entitled to reservations just as their Hindu counterparts are, and have been benefiting from them for a long time. Bihar has had such reservations from the 1970s. In Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where the BJP has ruled for more than 15 and 20 years now — with Modi holding the reins in Gujarat for 12 of those 20 years — the party has not done away with the reservations given to 27 Muslim castes in Madhya Pradesh and 22 Muslim castes in Gujarat.

In his first term as prime minister, while addressing a BJP conclave in Odisha, Modi acknowledged the existence of OBCs among Muslims and stressed that “The benefits meant for OBCs should go to the Muslim OBCs too.” Modi had in 2022 asked his party to attract this very section of Muslims by taking out ‘sneh yatras’. “We need samman (respect), not ‘sneh’ (affection),” had been the response of Ali Anwar, founder of the All-India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz.

As it turned out, the Pasmandas got neither; no such yatra was taken out, despite grand announcements in Uttar Pradesh.

One wonders what the Pasmanda Muslims who have joined the BJP feel about Modi’s high-pitched attack on reservations for Muslims in his election campaign. Do they dismiss it as the usual BJP attempt to polarise and win votes? Or, do they see it as part of a pattern set in motion over the last two years? In late 2022, the Union government stopped pre-matric scholarships and post-graduate scholarships for minorities, three years after announcing that such scholarships would be increased. The biggest beneficiaries of these scholarships were the Pasmanda Muslims; for them this was one ‘Modi Ki Guarantee’ that proved hollow.

The Pasmanda Muslims were also hit hard by the punitive measures taken against madarsas by Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma. Contrary to the hype against them being part of a ‘jihadi conspiracy’, these Islamic schools attract only the poorest Muslim families who cannot afford regular schools, and who want their children not just to acquire functional literacy and a knowledge of their faith, but also free meals and lodging. Many of these beneficiaries are Pasmanda Muslims.

In Uttar Pradesh, 1.7 million students studying in madarsas would have had to drop out last month, had the Supreme Court not stayed the order of the Allahabad High Court that directed the state government to accommodate these students in regular schools. A challenge to the Assam government’s law against madarsas is pending in the Supreme Court. Here, hundreds of poor students have already been pushed out of the education system by the demolition of madarsas on spurious grounds.

Given his familiarity with the Pasmandas, Modi must know that the bangle-sellers and street vendors who’ve been attacked and warned not to enter Hindu localities have all been the Pasmandas. We’re still waiting for him to order action against the assailants.

There is one more hypocrisy in the prime minister’s allegation. When he talks ad nauseam about ‘snatching away’ reservations from those entitled to their benefits, it’s worth pointing out that in Maharashtra, the BJP-led government faces the same allegation. The state’s OBCs, including leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal who are part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), are convinced that the government’s new Bill granting 10 per cent reservation to the Marathas will eat into OBC reservations.

‘Appeasement politics’, the charge Modi loves flinging at the Congress, was being practised in full form by the Shinde-Fadnavis government right since September, after the police lathi-charged fasting Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil’s followers. Devendra Fadnavis, as Home Minister, took the unprecedented step of apologising  for the lathi-charge. The official survey that pronounced Marathas as ‘backward’, was completed in a record 10 days’ time. Earlier, three members of the Backward Class Commission tasked with evaluating the status of the Marathas had resigned, alleging government interference.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allegations against the Congress on reservations fit the BJP perfectly.

(Jyoti Punwani is a senior journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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