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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Narendran Panel On BC Job Quota
League locks horns with upper castes
By Mukundan C. Menon

Thiruvananthapuram: With Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest constituent of Kerala's ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), adopting a firm stand on the issue of Backward Castes' job quota as identified by Justice Narendran Commission Report, there is every likelihood for realignment of forces which, in turn, will have far reaching socio-political impacts in near or distant future in Kerala. 

After the Muslim League belatedly declared its firm position unambiguously in favour of implementation of the report, the line-up for open confrontation has become clear: RSS/BJP on the side of upper-caste social groups (Nair Service Society (NSS), Brahmana Sabha, etc.) opposing its implementation; Muslim League taking the cause of BCs like Eazhavas, Latin Catholics, Nadars, Viswakarmas, etc. seeking its total and speedy implementation; and, both Congress and CPM, who lead the ruling UDF and opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF), adopting wait-and-watch policy without taking open stands as both are keen to shrewdly play its pro-upper caste cards. For example, there are votaries within both CPM and Congress who favour implementation of Narendran Commission report by ensuring reservation on economic backwardness, which is clearly an upper-caste plank to counter caste/community based reservation system.

What is Narendran Commission and its Report? It was appointed by the former CPM-led LDF Government in February 2000 to study and report on the pattern of representation of Backward Classes in the State public services Headed by former judge of Kerala High Court Justice K.K. Narendran, the Commission had as its members former chairman of Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) T.M. Savan Kutty, and former Chief Secretary K. V. Rabindran Nair. After one-and-half years of study, the panel submitted the final report in September 2001 after the present Congress-led UDF government headed by A. K. Antony occupied power in May 2001. The Commission made its analysis for the two-part report on the basis of data collected from different sources, especially the KPSC and heads of 299 different wings like government departments, public sector undertakings, universities and autonomous institutions. There were irritants about non-receipt of required data from different source in time.

The Commission's findings were worth revealing: The representation of backward communities in the State service in general was `clearly inadequate' ; However, the extent of inadequacy varied from community to community as Eazhavas got better representation on merit quota while the Muslims lagged behind; Although the due quota share of BCs is 40 per cent, as on August 01, 2001, they together got 48.23 per cent (1,57,008) of the 3,25,554 employees in all the Government departments and judiciary in Kerala as against 38.73 per cent posts occupied by the forward communities.

The Commission findings exposed that although the BCs put together had exceeded their representation of reservation job quota, this benefit was uneven among various backward communities and within communities, among different categories of employment. Thus, as against Ezhavas, who have far exceeded their quota in all the six categories analysed by the Commission and who secured 20.41 per cent of all jobs in Government departments, the total share of jobs occupied by Muslims is only 10.45 per cent. Further, as against the Muslims exceeding the quota marginally in Category 1 (10.3 per cent against quota of 10 per cent), they fell short in the remaining five categories of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in which they secured only 10.66, 9.85, 11.63, 9.94 and 9.71 respectively against their quota share of 12 per cent.

Like Muslims, other BC representation also remained far below their due quota share. Thus, the representation of Nadars, who have a total of 1.90 per cent in all the categories taken together, had fallen short marginally in category one (2.83 against 3 per cent) experienced sharper shortfall in other categories. Similarly, the Viswakarmas, with total 2.91 per cent representation in all the categories together, have exceeded their quota in three out of the six categories. Dheevaras, with total 1.18 per cent representation in all the categories together, has exceeded its quota in two categories. The Latin Catholics, including Anglo-Indians, have a total of 3.14 per cent in all the categories together against their quota of 4 per cent. Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity have got a total representation of 0.78 per cent in all the categories together, which is short of their quota in all of them. 

Narendran Commission also pointed out that sixty-eight other communities grouped together by it have got a total representation of 7.46 per cent: In category I, their representation is 8.97 per cent against their quota of 6 per cent; In category II, their representation is 7.22 per cent against their quota of 3 per cent; In categories III, IV, V and VI, their representation is 6.48 per cent, 5.65 per cent, 6.88 per cent and 5.34 per cent respectively against their quota of 3 per cent. 

In PSUs as on August 1, 2001, the Commission also found that 54,984 out of 1,13,640 employees belonged to the backward classes (48.38 per cent against a quota of 40 per cent) and 41,863 to forward classes (36.84 per cent). At the same time, the percentages relating to universities showed a picture somewhat favoring the forward communities with 4,470 (45.86 per cent) employees belonging to the forward communities and 4,384 (44.98 per cent) belonging to the backward classes. The same situation prevails in autonomous institutions where the BCs together got 41.45 per cent of the 21,334 jobs against the forward communities cornering 51.09 per cent of the jobs.

In a nutshell, the Narendran Commission had pointed out that in Kerala's government service sector, the Muslim community deserved another 7,353 posts, Dheevaras 1,256, Nadars 2,614, Ezhavas 460, Latin Catholics 4,370 and Converted Christians 2,290. Since this was the position prevailing in 2000, all the BC bodies, with the Muslim organizations in the forefront, were demanding a special recruitment to fill up these backlog vacancies. 

Ironically, before the 14th Lok Sabha elections, the Muslim League wanted the implementation of Narendran Commission report after holding "conciliatory talks" with bodies like NSS who are opposed to it. However, after the Lok Sabha elections, in which the Muslim League received a rude setback by losing its traditional Manjeri seat in Malappuram district for the first time since 1952, it suddenly took a seemingly rough, tough and hard stand on the issue. More than anything else, compulsions of political circumstances had forced Muslim League to harden its stand as it unmistakenly identified erosion of Muslim support to both UDF and Muslim League mainly due to the anti-minority policies and pronouncements of Chief Minister Antony. According to the Muslim League, the UDF was wiped out in the polls due to the twin factors of erroneous police policy (handled by Antony) and non-implementation of the Narendran Panel report. The overall situation brought Chief Minister A K Antony into open confrontation with Muslim League General Secretary and Industries Minister P. K. Kunjalikutty at the first UDF meeting held at Kovalam in post-Lok Sabha poll scenario. It also widened the wedge between these two major ruling front constituents.. With hardly two years left for the Assembly general elections, the Muslim League wants the implementation of Narendran Commission report so as to woo back the Muslim voters into its fold. At the same time, the Muslim League want to take up the issue on the BC plank and by projecting itself as championing the BC cause.

Says Kunjalikutty: "Implementation of Narendran Commission report is connected to the denial of adequate representation for five to eight Backward Class communities in government service. Several other communities like the Dheevaras, Vishwakarmas, Latin Catholics and converted Christians did not have sufficient representation, while the Muslim community is the worst-affected. The IUML has always considered the reservation issue as an ideological and fundamental one. The party will take a firm stand and is prepared for any sacrifice on an issue affecting the Backward Classes. Being in power, the IUML is committed to ensure that all backward sections get what is legitimately due to them." According to him, Muslim League's conciliatory stand should not be construed as its weakness and the legitimate demands should not be ignored. 

In fact, there were other issued to act as thorns to widen the gap between Antony and Muslim League. There was wider apprehension among the Muslims, in particular, that Antony had always maintained an anti-minority and pro-Sangh Parivar stand. These are not without reasons, either. In issues like Marad killings and Killi police atrocities, Antony's stand raised many eyebrows within minority community. Antony took an open stand that VHP leader Thogadia would not be prevented from distributing tridents, while Thogadia acclaimed it saying that Antony should become the AICC President. Antony was in regular attendance at the feet of Sangh Parivar's living icon cult-figures like Mata Amrithanandamayi, and Shankaracharyas of Sringeri or Kanchi. Muslim League Minister Cherkulam Abdullah's accompanying Antony to meet Sringeri Mutt head and sit at his feet by wearing red "thilak" on forehead had created a stir in Muslim League warranting the intervention of League supreme, Panakkad Shihab Thangal. 

Then came Antony's open statement against minorities saying that, because of the Gulf money, the economic disparities between the majority and minority communities is creating social tensions and that the minority communities were using its organised strength to wrest more concessions. In a patch-up exercise, although Antony called upon Shihab Thangal at his Panakkad residence in Malappuram district, the latter openly expressed displeasure. Then came the electoral rout, which forced the IUML to take a tough stand. On the electoral defeat, Thangal said: "May be, factors like anti-minority sentiments created by UDF Government and non-implementation of Narendran Commission report could have contributed to it." Thangal is also now contemplating to take up the issue of Narendran Commission with Sonia Gandhi at Delhi.

The internal group rivalries in Congress also contributed to this overall situation. With Antony's arch rivals within Congress, K. Karunakaran, son and daughter, wielding no more positions either within the party or government, the Antony group has become more powerful. Earlier, there was a feeling within Antony group that the Muslim League were taking advantage out of this group fight within Congress. Since Karunakaran group has been sidelined, Antony group has mustered more courage to be on terms with League. 

Meanwhile, in a clear indication of dilly-dallying with the implementation of Narendran Commission report, the State Cabinet and the KPCC formed its own sub-committees to submit report on the issue. Interestingly, prominent Antony group leader Aryadan Mohammed, MLA from Nilambur constituency in Malappuram district and bet noire of Muslim League, has been appointed as Chairman of the three-member KPCC committee to study Narendran Commission reports much to the chagrin of League leaders. Terming these as ''procrastination tactics'', the Latin Catholic archbishop Dr Daniel Acharuparambil said: ''It has become a hobby for the successive Governments to constitute committees whenever the Narendran Commission report becomes an issue. All of us know the fate of these committees. The constitution of the present committee is nothing but a part of the Government's delaying tactics. We cannot wait any longer.'' According to him, the newly floated Kerala Region of Latin Catholic Council, a representative body of the clergy and the laity, would soon come out with its strategy for the open struggle. 

The Nair Service Society (NSS), who consistently demand for economic-based reservation, is in the forefront to oppose implementation of Narendran Commission report. According to its supremo, P. K. Narayana Panicker, they would not compromise on their stand against the Narendran Commission report "even if 10 percent job reservation is granted for the economically poor among the forward communities in the State". Ruling out any talks with anyone on the issue, NSS Assistant Secretary G. Sukumaran Nair warned that all those who attempt to implement the report would face the consequences of not seeing the Assembly after the next elections. The NSS has consistently held that the appointment of Narendran panel itself was invalid since its constitution was against the Supreme Court directive on reservation on economic quota. According to them, the Government should find out the unfilled vacancies due to the backward communities, instead of succumbing to pressure for implementation of the Narendran Commission report. "Out of the 12 percent quota due for the Muslim community fixed in accordance with the population for Government jobs, 10.45 percent vacancies were filled in 2000 itself. With Muslim League participation in the Government from 2001, it could be surmised that the remaining vacancies might have been filled by now. Let the Government takes the numbers."

Opposing the Narendran Commission report, former Union Minister and senior BJP leader, O. Rajagopal, termed demands for special privileges on the ground of religion as `unconstitutional.' Elaborating the BJP stand, he said: "We can never agree with the demands of IUML and representatives of Christian communities for a special recruitment drive." Implementing the recommendations of Narendran Commission report will lead to widespread repercussions, he warned. According to him, the report contained no specific recommendations for a special recruitment drive. Recalling that the makers of the Constitution, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B.R. Ambedkar, were against the demand for special privileges that were then raised by the Muslim League and Christian communities, the BJP leader maintained: "All of them were categorical that the special privileges could be granted only to the backward sections in the Hindu community who had been oppressed for centuries. The poor and the needy belonging to all religions should be given adequate protection from destitution and hunger. This, however, is entirely different from the concept of income-based reservation", he added.
The powerful SNDP of Eazhava community, which constitute the major BC segment in the state, is divided over the Narendran Commission Report mainly due to the personal pro-Sangh Parivar affiliation maintained by its General Secretary Vellappally Natesan. Echoing the Hindutva sentiments, Natesan has become a votary of Hindu unity - from Adivasis to Brahmins - to resist cornering of all benefits by the minority communities. However, SNDP President, C. K. Vidyasagar, stoutly opposed Natesan's stand and declared support for total implementation of the report. 

In a calculated move to win Natesan's support, .Kunhalikutty called on him on July 19 at his Kanichukulangara house near Cherthala in Alappuzha district. Later, while declining to divulge details of the discussion, Kunhalikutty said that the Muslim League would play a lead role in bringing all the backward communities and their organisations together for putting pressure on the Government to conduct special recruitment for OBC candidates to ensure the OBCs a 'rightful share' in government jobs. According to Kunjalikutty, Natesan had pointed out some irregularities in the commission's report and that if these were rectified, he would not oppose it. "Natesan also had some 'minor' complaints on the educational policies, and I assured him that these would be looked into". Describing Kunjalikutty's visit as a friendly one, Natesan clarified that the Yogam was not blindly opposing the report. 'There are some anomalies in it and they should be rectified.'' the SNDP leader said.

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