India: Bid To Sharpen Hindu-Muslim Divide Ahead Of Elections – Analysis
The BJP is threatening to abolish reservations in jobs and educational institutions for Muslims if voted to power in the 2023-24 elections.
With elections due for State Assemblies and parliament in 2023-2024, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has put into operation its time-tested tactic of sharpening the communal divide to reap electoral rewards. The idea is to further marginalize the Muslims and consolidate its Hindu vote-bank.
The issue of reservations or quotas in government jobs and places in educational institutions is being brazenly used to further this end in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
At the Centre itself, the BJP government last year stopped the Maulana Azad Fellowship for minority students. Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani told parliament that the Maulana Azad scholarship scheme overlapped other schemes which could be used be used by students from the minority communities.
However, the fact of the matter is that, a scholarship which was primarily meant for Muslims following the recommendation of the Sachar Committee, was denied to them. The scheme was very useful to the minorities pursuing doctoral work. According to the University Grants Commission, between 2014-15 and 2021-22, 6722 minority students had got fellowships.
The cancellation of the scheme particularly effected students from States where Muslims are not included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category for getting quotas. Many States do not allow reservations based on religion, and a Muslim will not be eligible even if his community is backward.
With elections in Karnataka due in May, the BJP government in the State has done away with the 4% reservation in government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Muslims in the OBC category. The government also decreed that it will distribute the 4% thus released, to the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, two dominant Hindu land-owning castes that are electorally crucial. The two will get 2% each.
The Muslims could still claim reservation under the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Karnataka. But availing the EWS quota is subject to approval from the Central government in Delhi.
Be that as it may, what is glaring is that non-Muslim minorities (Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christian converts) continue to be eligible to be in the OBC category and enjoy concessions while Muslims and converts to Islam cannot.
By taking away the 4% reservation for Muslims, the BJP has pleased the Hindu majority as a whole, as they consider any concessions to Muslims as needless “appeasement”. The BJP does not want the Muslim vote and has never sought it. It believes that Hindu consolidation against the Muslims is enough to capture power.
The Muslims of Karnataka are aggrieved because they had been enjoying 4% reservation since 1995. Reservation for Muslims was recommended by the L.G.Havanur and Chinnappa Reddy Commissions. Thanks to reservation, between 1996 to 2002, 346 Muslim students were able to secure seats in Medicine, 258 in Dental and 3486 in Engineering courses, media reported.
Experts have decried the decision to remove Muslims from the OBC list on legal grounds. It was done without any survey or study and disregarded a Supreme Court directive. The Havanur and Chinnappa Reddy Commissions had recommended reservation for Muslims after a socio-economic study. But there seems to be no data-based rationale behind the government’s decision to scrap reservation for Muslims. This flies in the face of a Supreme Court ruling that any addition or deletion of a community from the reservation matrix must be based on an empirical data-based study.
Congress leader, D.K.Shivakumar, pointed out that the government had announced its decision even before the Backward Classes Commission had given its final report. The Congress has announced that the decision would be reversed if voted to power in May this year.
In 2005, the Andhra Pradesh government passed an Act giving 5% reservation in admissions to educational institutions and appointments to public service in the State to the Muslim Community. But the Act was struck down by the Andhra Pradesh High Court on the grounds that designation of the entire Muslim community as a Backward Class on the sole basis of religion was unconstitutional.
However, in 2006, the Supreme Court granted a stay on the High Court’s verdict and referred the matter to a Constitution Bench. The bench postponed hearing on it till the case on reservations for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society was considered. Eventually, the court greenlighted reservations for the EWS.
But the use of the economic criterion was injurious to the Muslims who have been seeking reservation on the basis of social backwardness and societal discrimination like the Backward Castes and Dalits, and not on economic grounds. Muslims, like the OBCs and Dalits, face discrimination based on social and educational backwardness. The Indian constitution instituted reservations on the basis of caste and not class.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu
Like Karnataka, Kerala had given the benefits of reservation to its entire Muslim population. This has been done by including Muslims (minus the creamy layer) as a distinct group within the broad category of Other Backward Classes (OBC) and then provided with an exclusive quota. In Kerala, the separate Muslim share stands at 12 %.
In Tamil Nadu, Muslims are not eligible for reservation as a religious group, but most of the Muslim communities are included either in the Other Backward Classes or the Most Backward Classes category. Nearly 95 % Kerala Muslims are included in the OBC list.
The total quantum of reservation in Tamil Nadu is currently is 69 %; far beyond the Supreme Court limit of 50 %. The Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institution and of appointments or posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1993 was included in the 9th Schedule through the 76th amendment of the Constitution.
Nobody has challenged reservation for Muslim castes under the OBC category in Tamil Nadu because the State’s politics is strongly secular, thanks to the entrenched Dravidian movement.
Ahead of the Telangana Assembly elections to be held later this year, the BJP has stiffened its stand against reservations for Muslims in the state under any category. The BJP’s Telangana president and MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar has warned that if voted into power in the State polls, the BJP would abolish reservation for Muslims.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti government is planning to increase reservations for backward Muslims to 12% from the present 4%, to accord with their percentage in the State’s population.
The Telangana BJP unit’s hostility is strongly backed by the BJP’s Central leadership. Addressing a public meeting in Hyderabad on May 14, Home Minister Amit Shah had said: “Minority reservation based on religion affects SC (Dalit), ST (Tribal), OBC reservation. We will end minority reservation and increase SC, ST, and OBC reservations.”
In 2016, a Commission led by former IAS officer G Sudhir studied the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in Telangana and recommended reservation of a minimum of 9% to 12%. The Commission had found that 85% of Muslims in the state were backward socially and educationally.
In April 2017, the Telangana Assembly passed a Bill for increasing reservations for Muslims from 4% to 12%. But the BJP government at the Centre refused to give its assent saying that it could not allow religion-based reservations.
Muslims stand to lose reservations in government jobs and quotas in educational institutions in several States if the BJP wins the coming elections. Any prospect of States legislating quotas for Muslims will also disappear.
Muslims in the non-communal South Indian States are set to lose more than their brethren in the Northern States because they will be deprived of a facility they had been enjoying for decades and had used it to lift their social status, though the backlog of Muslim backwardness is still considerable.