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Reservation for Muslims
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Elections to state assemblies of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamilnadu and West Bengal are scheduled to be held early this month. The process of political alignment and realignment is over. Political parties have selected candidates. Those left out or ignored are left out are either sulking or acting like rebels. The minority in all the five territories is significant if not decisive. Here minority refers to Muslims and Christians, which have been targets of Sangh Parivar. Their share in the total population of the territory ranges from the least in Tamilnadu (11.16%) to the maximum (42.65%) in Assam. It shall be relevant to give the share of Muslims and Christians in total population in all the five states, going to the polls in May. The figures are on the basis of Census 1991. The break-up of the census 2001 is still awaited.

Percentage of Muslims and Christians in total population as shown by Census 1991:
States 1.Muslims 2.Christians Total (1+2)
Assam 28.43 3.32 31.75
Kerala 23.33 19.32 42.65
Pondi 6.54 7.23 13.77
TN 5.47 5.69 11.16
WB 23.61 0.56 24.17

Although the manifesto of political parties in the fray has yet to come out. But that is nothing but promises on paper. However, they are expressions of the attitude of the party to certain important issues. In that context, we have to examine their position in relation to the demand for reservation for Muslims.

Muslim organizations although disagreeing among them, seem united on a single demand-reservation in services and professional educational institutions. Unfortunately, reservation has emerged as the most explosive issue in Indian politics. Congress promised reservation for Jats, and cashed the promise in terms of votes. After firmly getting in the saddle, they realized that the promise could boomerang on them. Procrastination in doing something about the demand cost them a number of Lok Sabha seats.

The demand for reservation for Muslims is not different. No political party, including Indian National Congress risked a positive response to the demand for reservation for Muslims. That would have provided ideal opportunity to Sangh Parivar for raising the usual outcry about ‘appeasement of Muslims.’ Prospect of getting Muslim votes was uncertain, risk of losing majority votes was almost certain. Only Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav in its Election Manifesto promised ten per cent reservation of jobs for minorities. It was a ploy for consolidating their political base among Muslims and backward classes. Their influence remains confined to only Uttar Pradesh, so their promise remained just a pious wish. It could not influence the previous elections to Lok Sabha. The demand for reservation for Muslims was ignored or bypassed. In the meantime the scenario for Muslims underwent a sea change. They quietly evolved a political strategy for lending support to any political party strong enough to defeat BJP. That is clearly reflected in Lok Sabha results of the constituencies, where the presence of Muslim voters is significant.

To a great extent the split in Muslim ‘vote bank’ has been avoided. Congress marginally succeeded in regaining a part of its support among Muslim voters. The major beneficiaries of that political strategy were Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Kanshi Ram. That indicates that Muslims have come to realize that for enlarging their political weightage, they have to align themselves either with the backwards or Dalits. The caste factor’ as represented in Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party operates against their interests.

There has been a minor section among Muslims, which favours cooperation and association with Bhartiya Janata Party for building bridges with the majority community. Many among them saw Atal Behari Vajpai as a new acceptable face of RSS. That would have gone a long way in reduction of the friction and acrimony between two major communities of India. But the conduct of the hard-liners of Sangh Parivar and his own statements, which sometimes contradict each other, have been a major stumbling block. The functioning of the state governments of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh has disturbed Muslims all over the country. Gujarat Government permitted government servants to join RSS. Under pressure of adverse public opinion the decision was rescinded. UP Government’s law regulating the construction and use of places of worship met with strong resistance of Muslims and their secular friends. For avoiding further damage to the credibility of NDA Government, it continues to lie in cold storage. In the course of the agitation against the UP laws, it was revealed that Congress governments of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and the Left Government of West Bengal enacted similar laws much earlier. The agitation has to become more broad-based. For the first time there is a realization in certain sections that they should come closer to the organizations representing Christian interests. Christians are the second target of Sangh Parivar. However, there are few takers of a ‘united front of minorities’ because Sikhs, although victims of ‘state terror’ in Punjab are unlikely to align themselves with Muslims or Christians.

There is a serious communication gap between Muslims and others. It is further aggravated by a persistent campaign of disinformation about them. The so-called ‘minority cells’ appended to secular political parties hardly serve any useful purpose. Their perception of the urges of the community is inadequate. They do not conduct research on the problems of the community. Their interaction with their community for conveying any useful information to their leaders is neither effective nor fruitful. The prospects of securing reservation in jobs or professional institutions are dim for the time being. For vertical and horizontal advancement in the present circumstances they have to rely adequately on self-help and positive thinking.
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