Weeks before polls in Uttar Pradesh, the Centre announced 4.5 per cent sub quota for minorities from 27 per cent quota for other backward classes (OBCs). The immediate target was the vote of Muslim community which made up around 18 per cent of Uttar Pradesh population.
Now it looks that the trick has worked against the Congress party in more than one way. Not only did the announcement not galvanise minority votes, the manner in which the government carved out a sub-quota has now been questioned by the Supreme Court (SC).
Muslim community leaders blame the Centre for its casual attitude in handling the issue. The Centre’s inability to defend its stand before the SC, they say, has exposed it was never serious about reservation and that sub-quota announcement was a poll gimmick.
Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, president of All India Muslim Majlis-Mushwarat, an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations, slammed the government for lack of home work for defending its decision before the court.
“The government’s callous attitude was clear when it sent a junior lawyer to defend its case in the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The government is hesitant about reservation and has been sleeping on the Rangranath Mishra committee report for all these years.”
Maulana Arshad Madani, president, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, said it was the responsibility of the law ministry to make sure that sub-quota was legally valid and could not be questioned in court.
“We have seen the Congress, in UPA I and UPA II, going back and forth, on the issue of reservation for Muslims. What is happening in Supreme Court is not a minor development. Such events will adversely impact the Congress party as far as the votes of the Muslim community are concerned,” he said.
Even if Uttar Pradesh election was the only factor that prompted the government to take this decision, it had to be backed by proper justification, said SQR Ilyas, member, working committee, All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
From the way the government has defended its stand so far, it looks like religion was the criteria for slicing a separate pie for minorities and the SC is correct in observing the same. “If they (government) want the court or public to believe otherwise, they should have prepared a better case,’ said Iyas.
There was a better way to handle the issue and the solution lies in reservation models adopted by Bihar and states in south, said Tanweer Fazal, assistant professor, Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi.
“Instead of carving out a sub-quota for minorities form the existing OBC quota, the government could have bifurcated the OBC list into ‘backward’ and ‘most backward’ without making specific mention of minorities. The ‘most backward’ group would automatically cover minorities. This is an easy way to extend the benefits of reservation to them without creating a fuss about it,’ said Fazal.
“But such an exercise needs time and cannot be done if the objective is to announce a poll soap,” he added.
According to Sultan Shahin, editor of Islamic website, newageislam.com, questioning the Centre’s intention, is going too far.
“The sub- quota case is an example of incompetence, inefficiency and lack of attention to detail. But we should not question the intention of Congress party because it has made an attempt to understand the issues of minorities. There is political will, but there is no social or constitutional acceptability to anything done for Muslims,” said Shain.