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Islam and Politics ( 28 Dec 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Minorities Reservation: Bending Towards Justice

By Tanweer Alam

Dec 29 2011,

The late Osho was a fine interpreter of social absurdities that destroyed human happiness. At the height of one of the early waves of pro-and anti-reservation stirs in Gujarat he told a mass of his ochre-robed disciples that the argument against reservation was not fair. In his characteristic off-hand way, he said: “You tie somebody’s hand and feet for 5,000 years and ask him to compete in a race against people who have been practising on a daily basis.”

Those observations provide some clarity on the contentious issue of reservations for Muslims: If Muslims have fallen to the bottom of the heap; they need to be pulled out of it before they can be able to run with the others, even though nobody had fettered them. There is a broad consensus that reservation would help. However, there is a widespread sense of scepticism about the announcement coming too close to UP elections.

The government has announced a sub-quota of 4.5 per cent for minorities within the existing 27 per cent quota for OBCs in Central jobs and admission to Central educational institutions. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians are notified as minority communities under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. This, hopefully, should enable the least developed castes among Muslims to get a foothold and extricate themselves from extreme deprivation. This is being seen as a first, small step towards a more equitable future.

Reservation to Muslims is not a new idea, nor is it unconstitutional. Its opponents are saying it is ultra-vires to the Constitution as no reservation is allowed on the basis of religion. However, in the states where they have got reservation over the years, they have got it on the basis of socio-economic backwardness. Already there are various quanta of quota for backward Muslims in different states. In Kerala, it is 12 per cent; Tamil Nadu, 3.5 per cent; Karnataka, 4 per cent; Andhra Pradesh, 4 per cent; West Bengal, 10 per cent and Bihar 5 per cent.

Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, economist and principal author of the Sachar committee report, who also has a legal background, cites the Constitution to say: “There is no bar on state action to uplift the weak on the basis of religion”.

Prof. Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of the National Law University, Bhubaneswar, whose opinion on legal and constitutional issues is taken seriously, is also sure that reservation for Muslims does not violate any constitutional provision. To validate the point that such reservation is in consonance with constitutional provisions, he quotes Article 15 of the Constitution, which says, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. The reservation for OBC Muslims is not going to be made on the basis of religion, but backwardness, and is a step towards justice to backward minorities.

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, chairman of the Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies says that stalwarts like Ballabh Bhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had assured Muslims that their interests would be taken into account and accommodated in the days ahead.  “During the formative years of the republic, when the wounds of Partition were still fresh, the two leaders had advised Indian Muslims to forego reservation for sometime, which the Muslims did,” says Dr Alam. “The two stalwarts had clearly assured our elders that they should trust the generosity of the Hindus and India,” to give them reservation when the moment came. “That moment has come,” says Dr Alam.

While the general feeling among the Muslims is that reservation is an idea whose time has come, there are differences on the details. Law professor and former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Prof. Tahir Mahmood says there is no legal problem with a quota within a quota. He was a member of the Ranganath Mishra Commission that recommended a 15 per cent quota for minorities and 10 per cent for Muslims. The Ranganath Mishra Commission came in the wake of the Sachar committee report that limited itself to gauging the extent of Muslim backwardness.

The Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto had envisaged and promised reservation for Muslims on the model of southern states. The manifesto read: “The Indian National Congress has pioneered reservation for the minorities in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in government employment and education on the basis of their social and economic backwardness. We are committed (ourselves) to adopting this policy at the national level”. In that sense, this announcement of a quota is a logical extension of past initiative.

Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi