Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi'sdetermination to snatch caste-based quotas from Hindus and extend them to Muslims and Christians, using the Ranganath Mishra National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) and HRD Minister Arjun Singh, deserves a constitutional challenge.
Caste is the building block of Hindu society, the system by which the myriad groups of the Indian landmass were historically integrated into a cultural and social unity, which nevertheless respected the diversity of their beliefs and practices. Hindu unity, throughout Hindu civilization, has never degenerated into uniformity, precisely because of the elasticity and expansiveness of the caste system. Jatis climbed up and down the varna ladder with equanimity, and the system was never the watertight, divisive and exclusive monstrosity projected by the British colonial rulers.
It was the British who realised ?India'sMuslim rulers never figured it out?that it was the strength of the caste system that prevented alien rulers with their massive armies and state power from converting the population wholesale to their faiths, as happened in other lands over-run by Christianity and Islam. Hence the concerted intellectual attacks upon caste, in both the colonial and post-colonial phases.
In the post-Independence period, however, the evangelical faiths have sought to increase their power by somehow gaining access to the caste-based reservation benefits extended to Hindu depressed classes from the colonial era onwards. Their attempts to procure religion-based reservations in the Constituent Assembly mercifully failed, but they tasted blood under the first Mandal Commission which listed some ?Muslim castes? among the OBCs. This has inspired Christians to press for SC/ST benefits for ?Dalit Christians.?
The issue has acquired a new urgency with HRD Minister Arjun Singh hinting at the possibility of giving Muslims OBCs an 8.5 per cent quota in elite educational institutions, by clever use (read misuse) of the constitutional norms of backwardness. In this way, the Ministry would not attract Supreme Court attention, since technically the reservations will not be given on religious basis. Shri Singh revealed this proposed ruse at the end of a two-day meeting of the national monitoring committee of minority education.
It is well known that Muslim leaders and academicians are demanding a caste quota for Muslims within the 27 per cent OBC quota in institutes of higher learning. An 8 or 8.5 per cent quota for Muslims would leave the Hindu OBCs with just 19 per cent seats. While there is currently a welcome review among the OBCs themselves about the desirability of reservations in academia, and Hindu society as a whole perceives the current move as a ruse to divide the society in conflicting caste camps, there can be no doubt that any attempt to extend quota benefits to evangelical communities will be viewed with suspicion, as these have a track record of seceding from the mother country, taking away precious land and other resources in the process, and inflicting a fatal blow upon the body politic.
Given the Ranganath Mishra Commission'sdesire to extend all constitutional benefits to Dalit Christians (which means political reservations by access to SC/ST Parliamentary and Assembly reserved seats), there is need to carefully scrutinize the proposed Bill for 27 per cent OBC quota in the institutes of higher learning, whenever it is introduced in Parliament.
Meanwhile, Hindu-minded parties like the BJP need to unequivocally state their views on the issue of caste within missionary religions. Since Christianity and Islam profess complete worldviews which seek to completely eradicate the previous religious and cultural beliefs and practices of converts and superimpose a new way of life upon them, they cannot be permitted to infiltrate and cannibalise Hindu society by walking through the caste door.
Caste does not exist in the theology of Christianity or Islam. Nor does it exist in practice in the lands where these faiths exist in their full power and glory. Nor do these religions permit ?national? variants which divert from the purity of the faith as preached in the Vatican, Protestant England, or Mecca and Medina. Hence in India, they cannot be allowed to make a political expedient of caste and use it to undermine Hindu society from within.
The bottom-line is simple. If either Christians or Muslims accept and practice caste discrimination amongst themselves, the conversion process among such groups or individuals should be legally declared to be inadequate and incomplete. In other words, they may be declared as non-Christians and non-Muslims and asked to either complete the process of their transformation to the new faith, or return to the Hindu fold. There can be no half-way house in this matter.
It is pertinent to note, meanwhile, that Shri Arjun Singh is also inaugurating certain dangerous trends in the educational sphere, with the proposal to reinforce Muslim separation by setting up elite Urdu-medium schools on the pattern of Navodaya and Central schools, in areas with a 10-12 per cent Muslim population. This would cover as many as 125 districts in the country. Its divisive implications should be obvious. Unless the UPA regime falls soon, the Eleventh Plan will see its implementation.
All that is left to complete the disempowerment of India'sassertive and upwardly mobile educated middle class is for the Centre to extend caste reservations to the private sector. The four decades of stagnation wrought by Nehruvian Socialism will be surpassed by one term under an Italian Evangelical. The BJP would do well to revise its acceptance of private sector reservations and wake up to the grim threat from the religious misuse of caste.