One man two votes if you are a minority
By Sandhya Jain
In India'stroubled history, religious quotas have been a sensitive issue. Religious reservations in the political sphere resulted in Partition as Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League would not reconcile to living under a system of one-man one-vote, which would deprive the Muslims of the communal weightage they enjoyed under the Raj.
In the circumstances, it was extremely shortsighted of the Congress leadership to perpetuate the sense of religious identity as a sole identity marker among communities that received special patronage from previous political dispensations. Whereas persecuted people, such as Syrian Christians, Jews, Parsis, Bahais, Tibetan Buddhists, who settled in India, faced no problems in preserving their distinct cultures while living in peace with their neighbours, the false notion that Muslims and Christians needed or deserved special constitutional concessions to protect their identities fostered an unhealthy sense of separatism amongst them.
The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Y. Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy'sdecision to press ahead with 5 per cent reservations for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions, despite a previous rebuff by the High Court, is a regressive measure by any yardstick. Blanket quotas are a poor instrument to deal with the alleged backwardness of any group, and religious quotas can only aggravate tensions between the various communities.
Y. Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy'sdecision to press ahead with 5 per cent reservations for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions, despite a previous rebuff by the High Court, is a regressive measure by any yardstick.
It is unbelievable that YSR pushed ahead with this explosive measure without an explicit nod from the Congress high command. The Chief Minister has not shown the desire to fulfill any other electoral pledge, most notably a separate Telengana state, which contributed immensely to the party'svictory. Yet, after the High Court placed technical hurdles in the way of the communal quota, YSR reconstituted the State Backward Classes Commission and asked it to remove the technical glitches in his path.
Within three days of being armed with the desired recommendations, he pronounced a 5 per cent quota, taking the total percentage of reservation in Andhra Pradesh to 51 per cent. As a sop, it was said that the so-called ?creamy layer? of the community, that is, children of parents with an annual income of Rs 2.5 lakh and above and children of Class I and II officers of the Central Government and judges of the Supreme Court, High Court and UPSC members, would be outside the purview of the said quotas.
This actually raises more questions than it answers. As Muslims constitute around 8.5 per cent of the state'spopulation, it is inexplicable that they should receive a whopping 5 per cent quota. If reservations are to be given on the basis of social or economic backwardness, these should be the only criterion for reservations, as every religious group has backward citizens and no religious group is backward in totality. In fact, the exclusion of the ?creamy layer? from reservation benefits makes sense only if the yardstick is economic or social backwardness rather than religious identity per se.
In this context, it needs to be reiterated that when reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were first mooted in the Constituent Assembly, it was for the specific reason that a mixture of historical-social factors had contributed to the present social, economic and educational backwardness of these groups. Hence, they were also given the benefit of political reservations. So while these groups were part of the Hindu society, the Hindus as a whole were not declared backward, as has now happened in the case of Andhra Pradesh Muslims. Yet, the State also admits that many Muslims do not deserve reservations.
If reservations are to be given on the basis of social or economic backwardness, these should be the only criterion for reservations, as every religious group has backward citizens and no religious group is backward in totality.
Some people have questioned the very claim of Muslim ?backwardness? in education as Muslim minority trusts run as many as 27 engineering colleges and two medical colleges in the state, and these in turn reserve 50 per cent of their seats for Muslim students. Since these trusts would also have received several economic concessions from the state government, it appears that educational reservations for Muslims in their own minority trusts and also in general institutions is a double benefit; it will deprive meritorious students of other groups.
As parties gear up to contest the issue of communal reservations in Court, some people claim that the Christian community allegedly corners a large percentage of benefits intended for STs/SCs by producing fake SC or ST certificates for admission to IIT and other professional courses, as well as for government employment. As neither Christianity nor Islam definitionally provides for caste identities, and in fact makes converts on the plea that conversion would attenuate caste disabilities, such a situation is untenable. Yet it is utterly believable as former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and his son, Amit, are embroiled in a controversy over the genuineness of their ST certificates in the light of their Christian identity. The matter is serious and calls for remedial action on a nationwide basis.
Clearly YSR has acted at the behest of his party supremo to set the ball rolling on the issue of political reservations for Muslims. Close on the heels of educational and job reservations, he announced reservations for Muslims in local bodies. If these are extended to the state assembly, it will be obvious that when the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind sought reservations in Parliament and state legislatures at a public rally in Delhi recently, it was not merely whistling in the dark. It may in fact have had a secret dialogue with Congress president, Sonia Gandhi and other leaders before voicing such an outrageous demand.
Before things reach such a sorry pass, there may still be time to return to the fact that reservations have always been intended to be a transitional measure. Today, with upper caste Brahmins seeking refuge with Dalit ki beti Mayawati, the very raison d?etre of caste-based reservations falls by the wayside. Religion-based reservations are totally illegitimate.